The Effects of Mental Health of Young Children on their Adolescent Functioning

Yukta Kulkarni ’22

Figure 1: A large number of mental disorders can affect both young children and adolescents.

Psychopathology is the study of mental disorders, which can be prevalent in all age groups. In fact, children can be tested and diagnosed as early as preschool. It has been observed that young children who show symptoms of disorders  may endure the same symptoms at an exacerbated level in later childhood or even adolescence. However, little is known about how these disorders affect the functioning of adolescents. Finsaas et al. focused on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), depression, and anxiety, hypothesizing that children with these mental disorders will have impaired functioning in their adolescence, specifically in academics, behavior, and interpersonal relationships.

609 families with three-year-old children participated in this nine-year study, which concluded when the children were 12 years old. Parents were interviewed using the Preschool Age Psychiatric Assessment to determine the DSM-IV disorders possibly present in their child. Children were diagnosed with ADHD, ODD, depression, anxiety, or a combination of these if they scored the highest dimensional symptom score. At age 12, the K-SADS-PL was used to determine the psychopathology of the children by interviewing both the parents and the children. To determine the functioning of the adolescents, the UCLA Life Stress Interview was administered and data referring to academic performance, behavior, and relationships was collected. 

After the data was analyzed through descriptive statistics and correlational analysis, it was discovered that having any of the four mental disorders studied was associated with lower functioning in academics, behavior, and relationships with friends and mothers. Paternal relationships with early-childhood diagnosed children were not noted to be greatly impaired. The poor functioning of the adolescents persisted after they were tested at 12 years old. Additionally, some adolescents who were not diagnosed with a disorder when younger now demonstrated depressive, ODD, and ADHD symptoms. This suggests that these children are at a disadvantage in many important aspects of their lives from a very young age. This study and future studies conducted regarding the limitations that mental disorders place on children should be put at the forefront of academic planning to provide educational assistance. 

Works Cited:

[1] M. Finsaas, et al., Early childhood psychopathology prospectively predicts social functioning in early adolescence. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol 49, 353-364 (2020). Doi: 10.1080/15374416.2018.1504298

[2] Image retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/saulalbert/34991210106

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