Twenty-year study links childhood depression to disrupted adult health and functioning – sciencedaily


Depression in young people, aged 10 to 24, is both a major cause of stress and a possible risk factor for future illnesses and disabilities. Now a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP), published by Elsevier, confirms that depression in childhood or adolescence is associated with higher levels of anxiety in adults and with substance use disorders, deteriorating health and social functioning, lower financial and educational outcomes, and increased crime.

The results are based on the Great Smoky Mountains Study, an ongoing, community-based project that tracks the health of 1,420 participants in the rural Southeastern United States and has been underway since 1993.

Senior author William Copeland, PhD, and professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont, Virginia, USA said: “One in twelve children has depression at some point between the ages of 9 and 16, girls being more likely to be affected. It is a common childhood challenge, which unfortunately often goes unnoticed by adults in children’s lives, including parents, teachers and pediatricians.

“The literature clearly indicates that we have effective treatments to help children with depression. The problem is, in the real world, the majority of children with depression go untreated and face this challenge on their own. This study highlights the consequences of this unmet need. “

Children in the study were assessed for symptoms of depression through interviews with the children and one of their parents up to eight times between the ages of 9 and 16. These same participants were then followed up to four times into adulthood, 19, 21, 25, and 30 to assess their mental health and real-world functioning in terms of health, wealth, criminality, and social results.

A diagnosis of depression in childhood was associated with a wide range of poorer indicators of well-being in adulthood. These links between early depression and poor adult outcomes persisted after accounting for participants’ early exposure to difficulties such as low socioeconomic status, family problems, abuse and bullying.

The links were strongest for children who had chronically high levels of depressive symptoms during childhood rather than for those who reported symptoms at some point. This finding is consistent with the idea that persistent depressed mood, in particular, is associated with worse long-term outcomes in adults.

Co-author Iman Alaie, MSc, and doctoral student in the Department of Neuroscience at Uppsala University, Sweden, said: “Participants who became depressed in adolescence actually did less well in their teens. developmentally, this was a rather unexpected finding given the current recognition that the earlier onset of the disorder may portend poorer outcomes. “

The study was not without some good news.

Children who received specialized mental health services to deal with their mental health issues were less likely to have worsening mental health issues – especially anxiety – when they entered the clinic. adulthood. Even here, however, children who received services continued to have problems in other important areas, including substance use, suggesting that children’s mental health services alone cannot be achieved. a panacea against all future health problems.

“Our results underscore the importance of rapid and effective treatment, but we should also consider additional support needs during the transition to adulthood,” said Ulf Jonsson, associate professor of child and psychiatric psychiatry. the adolescent in the Department of Neurosciences at Uppsala University.

Overall, the study confirms the public health burden of childhood depression and depressive symptoms, especially when felt over longer periods of time. “When we consider the burden of depression on children, their families, and school, and look at it from a public health perspective, it becomes clear that we need to do a better job of alleviating the factors. risk of childhood depression where possible, by having better screening processes to detect childhood depression and using evidence-based prevention and treatment when we find that a child is at risk for depression or has developed depression ” added Lilly Shanahan, PhD, professor in the Department of Psychology and the Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development. at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.

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