More than teen angst: Mental health issues may persist into adulthood

May 13, 2014—Having a mental health issue in the teen years raises the risk for similar issues in later life, according to a study in The Lancet. But only some adolescents who experience depression and anxiety will have these disorders persist into adulthood.

About 26 percent of all adults in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Most adults with mental health disorders experienced their first symptoms before they reached age 24, according to the study background.

This study sought to look into the details surrounding the persistence of depression and anxiety from the teen years into adulthood. The authors found that certain circumstances—including the duration of the illness, parental separation or divorce, and the gender of the teen—played a role in whether mental health issues continued beyond adolescence.

About the study

The study authors followed 1,943 adolescents (most about 15 years old at the start of the study) for 14 years. All the participants came from 44 secondary schools in Victoria, Australia.

The study authors assessed the mental health of participants five different times during adolescence and three times during young adulthood. The study used the Revised Clinical Interview Schedule to define mental disorders.

As they expected, the authors found high levels of depression and anxiety among adolescents. Nearly 30 percent of the boys and 54 percent of the girls had at least one episode of these mental disorders. The study found that:

  • 60 percent of the adolescents who experienced these disorders also had a further episode as a young adult.
  • The prevalence of the disorders had decreased by the time participants reached their late 20s.
  • Many young people had no further episodes of depression or anxiety in adulthood.

Certain factors predicted a greater likelihood of a mental disorder persisting from adolescence into young adulthood. These were:

  • Longer duration of symptoms
  • Being female
  • Having a background of parental separation or divorce
The take-home message
Teens often struggle with mental health issues. While some teens do seem to get better when they hit their early 20s, parents who look for ways to reduce the impact of mental health symptoms on their children could help them to ease into a healthier adulthood.


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