Childhood mental health may affect adult work life
By Amy Norton
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Children's mental well-being may affect the types of jobs they eventually get, and, thereby, their odds of work-related stress, new research findings suggest.
In a study of more than 8,000 British adults followed since birth in 1958, researchers found that those who had shown "internalizing behaviors" as children -- such as excessive sadness, anxiety or withdrawal -- were more likely to end up with a stressful working life.
This included jobs with high demands, little autonomy or little job security.
These job stressors, in turn, were linked to a greater risk of depression and anxiety once the study participants reached middle-age, the researchers report in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
"Depression and anxiety in childhood might affect the types of jobs that people may be eligible for, and these tend to be lower-status jobs," explained lead researcher Dr. Stephen Stansfeld, of Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
"It is then possible that the adverse conditions of these jobs might act as risk factors for anxiety and depression in midlife," he told Reuters Health.
Stansfeld and his colleagues analyzed data from 8,243 men and women in the 1958 British Birth Cohort study, which assessed participants periodically between the ages of 7 and 45.
Both childhood internalizing symptoms and psychological distress in young adulthood raised the odds of "adverse work characteristics" in middle-age, the researchers found.
At the age of 45, adults in jobs with little security or jobs that had high demands but little decision-making freedom had a nearly two-fold increase in the risk of depression or anxiety disorders. Similar risks were seen among men and women who said they had little support from co-workers and supervisors.
Stansfeld speculated that poor mental health in childhood interferes with education, which in turn affects lifelong work options.
"Also," he noted, "anxiety and depression may have a negative influence on self-confidence and aspiration to achieve, and thus young people may opt for jobs with less capacity to develop their potential."
According to Stansfeld, the findings have implications for the management of young people's mental health problems.
"There should be greater recognition of the potential lifelong impact of depression and anxiety in young people," he said, "and more effort and resources should be put into helping (them) catch up or continue education and training, and get informed careers advice."
SOURCE: Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2008.