*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on EurekAlert.
New research has found that childhood adversity, such as parental conflict, death of a close family member, or serious injury, before the age of nine was associated with mental health problems in late adolescence.
However, the research also shows that improving the relationship between parents and children could prevent subsequent mental health problems, even in children who have experienced severe adversities. The research also indicated that improving a child’s self-esteem and increasing their levels of physical activity can help to reduce the risk of developing mental health problems.
The study, led by researchers from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, is recently published in Psychological Medicine.
The research team analyzed data from over 6,000 children in Ireland who took part in the Growing Up in Ireland study. The results showed that just over a quarter of children had experienced childhood adversity before the age of nine.
At age 17 and 18, almost one in five of the young people were experiencing significant mental health difficulties. 15.2% had developed internalizing problems, such as anxiety or depression, and 7.5% had developed externalizing problems, such as conduct problems or hyperactivity.
Those who experienced childhood adversity were significantly more likely to report mental health problems in late adolescence.
“Among children who have experienced adversity, we found that reducing conflict between the parent and child and fostering a warm relationship can protect them from a broad range of later mental health problems,” said Professor Mary Cannon, the study’s principal investigator and professor of Psychiatric Epidemiology and Youth Mental Health at RCSI.
“We also found that improving a child’s self-esteem and encouraging physical activity may also be useful intervention targets for preventing difficulties with mood and anxiety following earlier adversity. On the whole, this is a hopeful story that points towards effective interventions to improve outcomes for children who had experienced difficulties early in life.”