Children with Psychiatric Problems End up As Problematic Adults

A study that was published in JAMA Psychiatry has found out that children who have mild or passing bouts of depression, anxiety or other behavioral issues were more likely to have serious problems in adulthood. The researchers were from Duke Medicine and they found out that the children did not have to be diagnosed with a psychiatric condition in order to have the symptoms that attributed to the difficulties during their adult years.

kids depression

In terms of the problematic issues that could develop during adulthood, the researchers found criminal charges, addictions, early pregnancies, educational failures, residential instability, and problems keeping or getting jobs were the biggest issues. The common problem for children is that they might have such a mild form of anxiety or depression that they do not get diagnosed, which means they often end up not getting proper treatment, and that is also part of why their psychiatric issues lead to even more issues in adulthood. The researchers found out that when compared with children who did not have any psychiatric issues, those children that did were six times as likely to wind up with difficulties in adulthood, which is a staggering statistic, and it shows just how severe even minor psychiatric issues can become.

Lead author William Copeland works as a clinical professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke. Copeland was not the only one working on this study, with Dieter Wolke, Lilly Shanahan and E. Jane Costello also being authors on the study. Copeland said that “ When it comes to key psychiatric problems — depression, anxiety, behavior disorders — there are successful interventions and prevention programs.” The big issue here is that during adulthood the problems become more of a costly social issue and public health issue, and the consequences of the psychiatric problems become more severe, such as jail and felony charges. “We have the tools to address these issues, but they aren’t implemented widely,” Copeland also stated in the study results. Copeland said the researchers were not expecting to find the protracted difficulties into adulthood, as they were just wondering about whether or not the psychiatric conditions in childhood ended up becoming something the children recover from.

The results of the study really show that there is a much greater need to attack the psychiatric problems earlier in life, such as through therapy and medications or other effective methods. Only about 40 percent of children get the treatments they really need for their psychiatric conditions, and even fewer children who have borderline problems, such as borderline personality disorder, get the treatment they need. There is a huge issue of people getting the treatments they need to effectively manage their psychiatric conditions, which means the illness goes on longer, sometimes gets worse over time, and then it ends up costing more money to try to help them later on in life, since this often requires more intensive medications or medical interventions. Certain psychiatric disorders were associated more with specific problems as adults, but the best way to predict whether or not someone would have issues as an adult would be having multiple psychiatric problems during childhood.


For this study, Copeland and his team analyzed data from the Great Smoky Mountains Study, which started about 20 years ago, and it included 1,420 participants from 11 counties in North Carolina. The study is ongoing and followed the participants from childhood through their adulthood, most of which are now in their 30s. Among the group in the study, 26.2 percent met the criteria for depression, anxiety, or a different behavioral problem during childhood. 31 percent had milder forms that were below the threshold for diagnosis, and 42.7 percent had no identified problems. The researchers found out that as the children grew up into adults, even some without psychiatric diagnosis, about 1 in 5, just stumbled into adulthood, meaning that they were having difficulties even without a psychiatric diagnosis.

However, a psychiatric diagnosis as a child raised the odds that the person in adulthood would have a lot of rough parts, even if they did not have the psychiatric problem in their adult years. Out of all of the children with the milder psychiatric indicators, 41.9 percent had at least one issue in adulthood that complicated success, and 23.2 percent had more than one issue. Out of all the children that had a full psychiatric diagnosis, 59.5 percent had serious adulthood challenges, and 34.2 percent had multiple problems during adulthood. This study shows the importance of getting treatment early for children who are showing symptoms of psychiatric problems, and the parents need to stay on the treatments well into the teenage years or even longer, since the problems in adulthood can become serious in nature if the situation is not correctly effectively.


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Jeanne Rose
Jeanne Rose lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has been a freelance writer since 2010. She took Allied Health in vocational school where she earned her CNA/PCA, and worked in a hospital for 3 years. Jeanne enjoys writing about science, health, politics, business, and other topics as well.

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