A recent study showed that mental health during childhood and adolescence influences certain biological markers in adult life and life expectancy.
A study recently published in the Journal of American Medicine Association, Psychiatry Section, by researchers from the University College London and Oregon State University showed that mental health problems in childhood and adolescence are known to cause adverse effects later in life. Typically, there is more mental stress, anxiety, depression, low levels of education, unemployment, poor family stability, and criminal offenses. More recently, correlations have also been found in relation to the rate of mortality.
However, some parameters are still not well studied, such as the effects on biological health in adulthood. In fact, poor mental health can affect many factors that can alter biological health in later life. There are links between mental health and low physical activity, high tobacco and alcohol consumption, and severe socio-economic adversities. In relation to mortality, there are also links with suicide, overdose, accidental injury, and homicide.
The participants came from the British National Cohort for Child Development, which originally consisted of 17,415 people born in 1958. The mental health assessment was conducted by parents and teachers using Rutter’s A-Scale, a tool developed by teachers to quantitatively measure the difficulties and the behaviors of children and adolescents. Four different groups emerged from these evaluations:
- Group 1 had no behavioral or emotional problems at any stage of childhood or adolescence.
- Group 2 had emotional and behavioral problems (especially behavioral problems) in adolescence, from the age of 16.
- Group 3 had emotional and behavioral problems only in childhood and then significant improvements.
- Group 4 had emotional problems in all phases of childhood and adolescence.
Group 1 served as a reference. Analysis of the data showed that groups 2 and 4 have biomarkers that are less conducive to good health in adulthood and also have a much higher risk of premature mortality. This is independent of factors such as gender, weight at birth, maternal smoking during pregnancy, maternal age, breastfeeding, the region of birth, body mass index, and other important factors affecting the child’s psychosocial life.
The importance of early intervention
These results come from an observational study in one country. Therefore, they cannot claim to prove a causal link, let alone a universal fact in all children. However, the authors suggest that causality is plausible and that if their findings can be generalized to other cohorts (typically Western children cohorts), this may mean that effective mental health interventions in young children have the potential to alter risk distribution and improve the health of the adult population.