BACKGROUND: Whilst the correlates of child mental health problems are well understood, less is known about factors that operate to maintain healthy or unhealthy functioning, or that contribute to change in functioning. A range of factors may be of interest here, including relatively stable characteristics of children or their environment, that may have long-lasting and enduring consequences for their mental health, along with events that prompt changes in a child’s mental state. METHODS: Children were followed up 3 years after the original survey for a sub-sample of the 1999 British Child and Adolescent Mental Health Survey (N = 2,587 children). Latent mental health ratings drew on data provided by parent, teacher, and youth versions of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire at baseline, and at follow-up. A residual scores method was used to assess change in functioning over time. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: Latent mental health scores showed strong stability over time (r = 0.71) indicating the need for effective intervention with children who have impairing psychopathology, since they are unlikely to get better spontaneously. A poorer outcome was associated with: externalizing as opposed to emotional symptoms, reading difficulties; living in a single-parent or reconstituted family at baseline; and after exposure between Time 1 and Time 2 to parental separation, parental mental illness, child illness, and loss of a close friendship. All these factors could be targeted in public health or clinical interventions, particularly as predictors of change in child mental health were closely comparable across the range of initial SDQ scores, suggesting that they operated in a similar manner regardless of the initial level of (mal)adjustment.
Ford, T., S. Collishaw, H. Meltzer and R. Goodman (2007). 'A prospective study of childhood psychopathology: independent predictors of change over three years.' Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 42(12): 953-961.DOI: 10.1007/s00127-007-0272-2