Children with ADHD were more likely to have mental health problems as young adults, as well as having a greater likelihood of self-harming and being on social assistance, than those with either asthma, injury or other serious health problems, the study showed.
Dr. de Oliveira’s team looked at the health records of all 178,686 children born between 1992 and 1996 in Ontario, Canada, using ICES data on health care encounters.
They first determined how many of these children had visited a physician or been hospitalized for these conditions until the age of 18. As an example from one age range – 9- to 13-year-olds – 5 per cent had ADHD-related physician care, 17 per cent received treatment for asthma, and 45 per cent had an injury requiring medical attention.
Then the team looked at outcomes after the age of 18. They found that ADHD had an outsized effect on adult health and social outcomes, larger than both asthma and injury. As young adults, the former children with ADHD had poorer mental health and greater chance of self-harm than children with asthma or injury. They were also more likely to be on social assistance.
The results confirm that the implications of having a childhood mental illness have a much further reach than the mental health issue alone.
Dr. Claire de Oliveira, Health Economist and Scientist in CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research
Another key finding, consistent with other research, is the effect of their mother’s mental health. “Maternal mental health has a huge impact on early adult outcomes,” says Dr. de Oliveira. “Mothers also need health and social supports.”
ADHD was selected to be studied in part because it is relatively common among children and can be easily identified in the ICES database. In the future, it would be valuable to see if some childhood mental illnesses have more of an impact than others on long-term outcomes, says Dr. de Oliveira.
Due to data limitations, the results may well be an underestimate of adult health and social outcomes, she notes.
“We already know that there are many personal, social, environmental and other factors that affect mental health, which is why this study applied a social determinants lens,” says Dr. de Oliveira. “The results confirm that the implications of having a childhood mental illness have a much further reach than the mental health issue alone.”
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