Mentally ill teens struggle with work as adults

50 per cent more likely to be unemployed as adults

(Reuters Health) — Teens with chronic health problems are less likely to complete high school or college or find high-paying jobs as adults, particularly if they suffered from mental illness, a review of previous research suggests.

Researchers analysed 27 studies on the impact of adolescent health on education and employment in adulthood and found teens with psychiatric problems were more than twice as likely to drop out of high school than their healthy peers.

Mentally ill teens were also 50 per cent more likely to be unemployed as adults, the analysis found.

“Our research suggests health conditions are associated with a number of detrimental factors including missed school, social exclusion and risky behaviours, all of which contribute to poor outcomes,” study co-author Leonardo Bevilacqua, a researcher at the UCL Institute of Child Health in the U.K., said by email. “The striking thing is the magnitude of the impact that mental health conditions have on educational and employment outcomes.”

Globally, one in four people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, according to the World Health Organisation. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions.

Bevilacqua and colleagues reviewed studies published in English since 1980 that followed children aged 10 to 19 with a chronic physical or mental health disorder to see what level of education and employment they achieved as adults.

After 18, the researchers examined high school and college completion, occupation, social class, unemployment and public assistance or welfare benefits. The typical age of adult participants ranged from 18.5 to 35.

More than half of the studies were done in the U.S., with four done in New Zealand, two in France and in Sweden, and one from the U.K., Finland, Canada and China. Most of them focused on mental rather than physical health.

Four studies in the analysis linked adolescent mental health problems to a doubled risk of becoming a welfare recipient in adulthood. But psychiatric difficulties didn’t appear to increase the odds of working in an unskilled or manual occupation.

A review of data from three studies linked both physical and mental health problems in adolescence to lower income later in life.

Two studies found that teens with conduct disorders were less likely to take bursary exams, needed to qualify for college scholarships in New Zealand.

One shortcoming of the analysis is that it wasn’t able to fully account for factors such as class or gender that are likely to be associated with chronic conditions as well as adult outcomes, the researches acknowledge in the journal Paediatrics.

Early detection is key to improving outcomes for teens with mental health problems, said Katherine Lamparyk, a paediatric psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s inOhio.

“The vast majority of mental health problems are treatable and have a very favourable prognosis, especially if caught early before they become more severe and cause subsequent problems,” Lamparyk, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “With psychotherapy and/or medication therapy (often both), adolescents absolutely can grow up to succeed in school and later employment.”

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