Natural history of mental health competence from childhood to adolescence
journal contributionposted on 2022-02-01, 00:00 authored by Meredith O'ConnorMeredith O'Connor, S J Arnup, F Mensah, Craig OlssonCraig Olsson, S Goldfeld, R M Viner, S Hope
BackgroundMental health competence (MHC) involves psychosocial capabilities such as regulating emotions, interacting well with peers and caring for others, and predicts a range of health and social outcomes. This study examines the course of MHC from childhood to adolescence and patterning by gender and disadvantage, in Australian and UK contexts.MethodsData: Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (n=4983) and the Millennium Cohort Study (n=18 296). Measures: A measure capturing key aspects of MHC was derived summing items from the parent-reported Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, assessed at 4–5 years, 6–7 years, 10–11 years and 14–15 years. Analysis: Proportions of children with high MHC (scores ≥23 of range 8–24) were estimated by age and country. Random-effects models were used to define MHC trajectories according to baseline MHC and change over time. Sociodemographic patterns were described.ResultsThe prevalence of high MHC steadily increased from 4 years to 15 years (from 13.6% to 15.8% and 20.6% to 26.2% in Australia and the UK, respectively). Examination of trajectories revealed that pathways of some children diverge from this normative MHC progression. For example, 7% and 9% of children in Australia and the UK, respectively, had a low starting point and decreased further in MHC by mid-adolescence. At all ages, and over time, MHC was lower for boys compared with girls and for children from disadvantaged compared with advantaged family backgrounds.ConclusionsApproaches to promoting MHC require a sustained focus from the early years through to adolescence, with more intensive approaches likely needed to support disadvantaged groups and boys.