Poor Mental Health in Childhood Could Lead to Stress in the Workplace
> 4/11/2008 10:52:24 AM

Psychiatric problems in childhood can have far-reaching effects, as the results of a recent study illustrate. Published in the April issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the study suggests that children's mental distress can have a significant influence on their future academic and occupational outcomes.

The team of British researchers, from Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, examined data from a cohort of over 8,000 individuals, all of whom were born in March 1958. The subjects had been tracked since birth, and their mental health was evaluated when they were seven, 11, 16, 23, 33, and 45 through information provided by parents and teachers as well as personal interviews. Using these assessments, the researchers identified several characteristics associated with depression or anxiety in mid-life, including living in a rented residence, having a chronic illness, being single, and work-related stress. At 45, those who had little control over work decisions, who did not have job security, or who reported low levels of social support at work had from two to four times the risk of also struggling with anxiety or depression. Importantly, the presence of internalizing problems in childhood— the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal— strongly predicted a high-stress workplace in adulthood.

Mental illness may affect a child's future occupational outcomes in many ways, especially considering the effect of poor mental health on academic performance. Children who experience psychiatric distress, particularly internalizing problems, may have difficulty taking tests or concentrating during class, and the troubles they experience as a result could limit the jobs available to them once school has ended. For those who struggled in school, low-paying jobs with high turnover may be the only option. Conversely, anxiety and depression can be detrimental to a child's self-esteem and alter the ways in which they view their potential. As adults, these children may seek out work that they believe will be less challenging and thus more manageable for them. Ultimately, low-paying and unrewarding jobs can bring more tension into an individual's life, and this stress could further contribute to their depression and anxiety.

The distress an individual experiences in childhood can continue to influence their thoughts and actions long after they have graduated, and subsequent work-related stress can exacerbate problems with anxiety and depression. Many could benefit by taking steps to reduce the stress they face in the workplace, and it is also important that parents and schools work to help children who struggle with mental illness improve their academic performance and prevent the negative consequences of mental illness from accumulating. With the appropriate treatment, many could meet their full potential and go on to develop satisfying careers.

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