BACKGROUND: Mental health problems during adolescence may create a problematic start into adulthood for affected individuals. Usually, categorical indicators of adolescent mental health issues (yes/no psychiatric disorder) are used in studies into long-term functional outcomes. This however does not take into account the full spectrum of mental health, nor does it consider the trajectory of mental health problem development over time. The aim of this study was twofold: (1) to identify distinct developmental trajectories of (co-occurring) internalizing and externalizing mental health symptoms over the course of adolescence (ages 11-19), and (2) to document the associations between these adolescent trajectories and economic, social, and health outcomes in young adulthood (age 22), unadjusted and adjusted for childhood functioning, putative confounders and current mental health.
METHODS: Data were used from the Dutch TRAILS cohort study (subsample n = 1524, 47.3% males). Self-reported INT and EXT symptoms using the Youth/Adult Self Report were assessed four times (ages 11y, 13y, 16y, 19y). Adolescent mental health trajectories were estimated using Parallel-Processes Latent Class Growth Analyses. Self-reported economic, social, and health outcomes and parent-reported current mental health (using Adult Behaviour Checklist) were assessed at age 22. Multiple logistic regression analyses were performed to test associations between trajectories and outcomes.
RESULTS: Four distinct trajectory classes were identified: (1) a normative class with decreasing-low INT+EXT symptoms (n = 460), (2) continuous moderately-high INT+EXT (n = 298), (3) continuous moderate, INT>EXT (n = 414), and (4) decreasing moderate, EXT>INT (n = 352). Compared to the normative class, the other three trajectories generally predicted less optimal early-adult outcomes, with the strongest effects observed for individuals with continuous moderate-high levels of both INT and EXT symptoms throughout adolescence. The associations largely remained after adjustment for pre-adolescent functioning, selected confounders and current mental health.
CONCLUSIONS: Both adolescent trajectories and current mental health had substantial independent effects on early-adult functioning.
- INDIVIDUAL-LIVES SURVEY
- PSYCHOSOCIAL OUTCOMES
- EXTERNALIZING PROBLEMS
- CONDUCT PROBLEMS
- COHORT PROFILE