For a while, researchers have been trying to figure out ways to detect mental health concerns in adults by examining their childhood experiences and habits. This is a sort of check-engine light for parents and caregivers which can be used to detect potential issues early on and get appropriate help.
Last week, researchers from the University of Cambridge found that high-insulin levels and body mass index in childhood could be linked to adults eventually developing mental health concerns such as depression. The paper was published in Jama Psychiatry, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Medical association.
“The general assumption in the past has been that some people with psychosis and depression might be more likely to have a poor diet and lower levels of physical exercise, so any adverse physical health problems are a result of the mental disorder, or the treatment for it,” Dr. Benjamin Perry from Cambridge’s Department of Psychiatry said in a statement. “In essence, the received wisdom is that the mental disorder comes first. But we’ve found that this isn’t necessarily the case, and for some individuals, it may be the other way around, suggesting that physical health problems detectable from childhood might be risk factors for adult psychosis and depression.”
The paper also found a link between depression and puberty, as an increase in body mass index during that time was linked with a higher chance of developing depression in adulthood, particularly in girls.
“Intervening early is the best way to reduce the mortality gap.”
This could be invaluable information for parents and medical professionals alike, as mortality rates tend to be way higher in people with mental health disorders than the general population. The World Health Organization previously found that the majority of children and adolescents who experience mental health concerns do not seek or receive medical attention. The WHO estimates that a total of 10-12% of children and adolescents worldwide and experience such concerns.
In the U.S. alone, over 15 million children between the ages of 3 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, depression, anxiety or behavioural issues. Many times, kids are grappling with multiple problems and these are only increasing with time.
Being able to identify mental health challenges and treating them early could be a game-changer for mental health.
“These findings are an important reminder that all young people presenting with mental health problems should be offered a full and comprehensive assessment of their physical health in tandem with their mental health,” Perry said. “Intervening early is the best way to reduce the mortality gap sadly faced by people with mental disorders like depression and psychosis.