Factors associated with common mental disorders during the transition to adulthood : do emerging adults and ‘early starters’ differ? Findings from an Australian birth cohort study

Dingle, Kaeleen D. (2010) Factors associated with common mental disorders during the transition to adulthood : do emerging adults and ‘early starters’ differ? Findings from an Australian birth cohort study. PhD thesis, University of Queensland.

[img] Accepted Version (PDF 6MB)
Available to QUT staff and students only | Request a copy from author


Background: Despite increasing diversity in pathways to adulthood, choices available to young people are influenced by environmental, familial and individual factors, namely access to socioeconomic resources, family support and mental and physical health status. Young people from families with higher socioeconomic position (SEP) are more likely to pursue tertiary education and delay entry to adulthood, whereas those from low socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to attain higher education or training, and more likely to partner and become parents early. The first group are commonly termed ‘emerging adults’ and the latter group ‘early starters’. Mental health disorders during this transition can seriously disrupt psychological, social and academic development as well as employment prospects. Depression, anxiety and most substance use disorders have early onset during adolescence and early adulthood with approximately three quarters of lifetime psychiatric disorders having emerged by 24 years of age.

Aims: This thesis aimed to explore the relationships between mental health, sociodemographic factors and family functioning during the transition to adulthood. Four areas were investigated:

1) The key differences between emerging adults and ‘early starters’, were examined and focused on a series of social, economic, and demographic factors as well as DSM-IV diagnoses; 2) Methodological issues associated with the measurement of depression and anxiety in young adults were explored by comparing a quantitative measure of symptoms of anxiety and depression (Achenbach’s YSR and YASR internalising scales) with DSM-IV diagnosed depression and anxiety. 3) The association between family SEP and DSM-IV depression and anxiety was examined in relation to the different pathways to adulthood. 4) Finally, the association between pregnancy loss, abortion and miscarriage, and DSM-IV diagnoses of common psychiatric disorders was assessed in young women who reported early parenting, experiencing a pregnancy loss, or who had never been pregnant.

Methods: Data were taken from the Mater University Study of Pregnancy (MUSP), a large birth cohort started in 1981 in Brisbane, Australia. 7223 mothers and their children were assessed five times, at 6 months, 5, 14 and 21 years after birth. Over 3700 young adults, aged 18 to 23 years, were interviewed at the 21-year phase. Respondents completed an extensive series of self-reported questionnaires and a computerised structured psychiatric interview. Three outcomes were assessed at the 21-year phase. Mental health disorders diagnosed by a computerised structured psychiatric interview (CIDI-Auto), the prevalence of DSM-IV depression, anxiety and substance use disorders within the previous 12-month, during the transition (between ages of 18 and 23 years) or lifetime were examined. The primary outcome “current stage in the transition to adulthood” was developed using a measure conceptually constructed from the literature. The measure was based on important demographic markers, and these defined four independent groups: emerging adults (single with no children and living with parents), and three categories of ‘early starter’, singles (with no children or partner, living independently), those with a partner (married or cohabitating but without children) and parents. Early pregnancy loss was assessed using a measure that also defined four independent groups and was based on pregnancy outcomes in the young women This categorised the young women into those who were never pregnant, women who gave birth to a live child, and women who reported some form of pregnancy loss, either an abortion or a spontaneous miscarriage. A series of analyses were undertaken to test the study aims. Potential confounding and mediating factors were prospectively measured between the child’s birth and the 21-year phase. Binomial and multinomial logistic regression was used to estimate the risk of relevant outcomes, and the associations were reported as odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (95%CI).

Key findings: The thesis makes a number of important contributions to our understanding of the transition to adulthood, particularly in relation to the mental health consequences associated with different pathways. Firstly, findings from the thesis clearly showed that young people who parented or partnered early fared worse across most of the economic and social factors as well as the common mental disorders when compared to emerging adults. That is, young people who became early parents were also more likely to experience recent anxiety (OR=2.0, 95%CI 1.5-2.8) and depression (OR=1.7, 95%CI 1.1-2.7) than were emerging adults after taking into account a range of confounding factors. Singles and those partnering early also had higher rates of lifetime anxiety and depression than emerging adults. Young people who partnered early, but were without children, had decreased odds of recent depression; this may be due to the protective effect of early marriage against depression. It was also found that young people who form families early had an increased risk of cigarette smoking (parents OR=3.7, 95%CI 2.9-4.8) compared to emerging adults, but not heavy alcohol (parents OR=0.4, 95%CI 0.3-0.6) or recent illicit drug use. The high rates of cigarette smoking and tobacco use disorders in ‘early starters’ were explained by common risk factors related to early adversity and lower SEP. Having a child and early marriage may well function as a ‘turning point’ for some young people, it is not clear whether this is due to a conscious decision to disengage from a previous ‘substance using’ lifestyle or simply that they no longer have the time to devote to such activities because of child caring. In relation to the methodological issues associated with assessing common mental disorders in young adults, it was found that although the Achenbach empirical internalising scales successfully predicted both later DSM-IV depression (YSR OR=2.3, 95%CI 1.7-3.1) and concurrently diagnosed depression (YASR OR=6.9, 95%CI 5.0- 9.5) and anxiety (YASR OR=5.1, 95%CI 3.8- 6.7), the scales discriminated poorly between young people with or without DSM-IV diagnosed mood disorder. Sensitivity values (the proportion of true positives) for the internalising scales were surprisingly low. Only a third of young people with current DSM-IV depression (range for each of the scales was between 34% to 42%) were correctly identified as cases by the YASR internalising scales, and only a quarter with current anxiety disorder (range of 23% to 31%) were correctly identified. Also, use of the DSM-oriented scales increased sensitivity only marginally (for depression between 2-8%, and anxiety between 2-6%) above the standard Achenbach scales. This is despite the fact that the DSM-oriented scales were originally developed to overcome the poor prediction of DSM-IV diagnoses by the Achenbach scales. The internalising scales, both standard and DSM-oriented, were much more effective at identifying young people with comorbid depression and anxiety, with OR’s 10.1 to 21.7 depending on the internalising scale used. SEP is an important predictor of both an early transition to adulthood and the experience of anxiety during that time Family income during adolescence was a strong predictor of early parenting and partnering before age 24 but not early independent living. Compared to families in the upper quintile, young people from families with low income were nearly twice as likely to live with a partner and four times more likely to become parents (OR ranged from 2.6 to 4.0). This association remained after adjusting for current employment and education level. Children raised in low income families were 30% more likely to have an anxiety disorder (OR=1.3, 95%CI 0.9-1.9), but not depression, as young adults when compared to children from wealthier families. Emerging adults and ‘early starters’ from low income families did not differ in their likelihood of having a later anxiety disorder. Young women reporting a pregnancy loss had nearly three times the odds of experiencing a lifetime illicit drug disorder (excluding cannabis) [abortion OR=3.6, 95%CI 2.0-6.7 and miscarriage OR=2.6, 95%CI 1.2-5.4]. Abortion was associated with alcohol use disorder (OR=2.1, 95%CI 1.3- 3.5) and 12-month depression (OR=1.9, 95%CI 1.1- 3.1). These finding suggest that the association identified by Fergusson et al between abortion and later psychiatric disorders in young women may be due to pregnancy loss and not to abortion, per se.

Conclusion: Findings from this thesis support the view that young people who parent or partner early have a greater burden of depression and anxiety when compared to emerging adults. As well, young women experiencing pregnancy loss, from either abortion or miscarriage, are more likely to experience depression and anxiety than are those who give birth to a live infant or who have never been pregnant. Depression, anxiety and substance use disorders often go unrecognised and untreated in young people; this is especially true in young people from lower SEP. Early identification of these common mental health disorders is important, as depression and anxiety experienced during the transition to adulthood have been found to seriously disrupt an individual’s social, educational and economic prospects in later life.

Impact and interest:

Search Google Scholar™

Citation counts are sourced monthly from Scopus and Web of Science® citation databases.

These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.

Citations counts from the Google Scholar™ indexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.

ID Code: 61650
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Refereed: No
Keywords: Mental Health , birth cohort study , Screening, Emerging Adulthood, Mater-University of Queensland Study of Pregnancy
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > PUBLIC HEALTH AND HEALTH SERVICES (111700) > Epidemiology (111706)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > PUBLIC HEALTH AND HEALTH SERVICES (111700) > Mental Health (111714)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Schools > School of Public Health & Social Work
Institution: University of Queensland
Deposited On: 02 Aug 2013 01:33
Last Modified: 09 Apr 2014 12:21

Export: EndNote | Dublin Core | BibTeX

Repository Staff Only: item control page