People who experience bouts of anxiety, depression and other behavioral problems during their childhood were found to be more susceptible to having serious issues when they grow up, a new study says.

Researchers at Duke University have discovered that children who were diagnosed with a mild or serious form of psychiatric condition were six times more likely to have difficulties in their adult life compared to those who did not have any psychiatric issues.

According to the research, the problems that these individuals typically face in their adulthood include education failures, early pregnancies, addiction and even criminal charges.

The study's lead author, Dr. William Copeland of Duke's Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences explained that there are existing prevention and intervention programs that are successful in addressing key psychiatric issues, such as anxiety, depression and other behavior disorders. However, they are mostly not implemented on a wider range.

Copeland said that the unresolved issues in people's childhood are then carried over to their adult life, when these problems become social issues and more costly to public health care programs.

In the study, which is featured in the JAMA Psychiatry journal, the researchers examined data collected from 1,420 people from 11 different counties in North Carolina, as part of the two-decade long Great Smoky Mountains Study. The ongoing study follows participants from their childhood to their adult life, in which most of them are now around 30 years old.

Copeland and his team found that 26.2 percent of the participants studied fall under the category of those either with anxiety, depression, or other behavioral disorder during their childhood. Around 31 percent of the participants experienced only mild forms of these psychiatric conditions, while 42.7 percent of them had no identifiable problems.

As these children reached adulthood, the researchers discovered that several of the participants experienced difficulties in their adult life, including those who were not diagnosed with any psychiatric issues.

The results, however, showed that participants that had bouts of psychiatric problems, even those with only mild forms had an increased likelihood to experience a rough patch in their adulthood. This result was also observed in children who did not continue to have psychiatric issues when they became adults.

Among the participants who only had mild psychiatric conditions during childhood, 41.9 percent experienced at least one of the issues in their adult life that could complicate their achievement of success, while 23.2 percent of them had more than one of these issues.

Meanwhile, 59.5 percent of children who had a full psychiatric diagnosis faced serious difficulties as adults, and 34.2 percent of them had more than one problem.

Copeland said that while specific psychiatric issues were linked to specific problems in adulthood, the best indicator of experiencing such adult issues is having more than one psychiatric condition as a child.

The findings of the study demonstrate the need for effective therapies to adequately address these issues early, according to Copeland. He said that only 40 percent of children receive the proper attention they need to treat psychiatric disorders, and a significantly lower number of children who experience borderline issues are even treated.

"A big problem with mental health in the United States is that most children don't get treatment and those who do don't get what we would consider optimal care," Copeland pointed out.

"So the problems go on much longer than they need to and cost much more than they should in both money and damaged lives."

Photo: Lucélia Ribeiro | Flickr 

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