Emotional and behavioural problems in childhood and distress in adult life: risk and protective factors

Authors

  • Ann Buchanan,

  • Eirini Flouri,

  • JoAnn Ten Brinke


Ann Buchanan,
Reader in Applied Social Studies (Correspondence);
Eirini Flouri, Research Officer; JoAnn Ten Brinke, Research Officer

Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of Oxford, Barnett House, 32 Wellington Square, Oxford OX1 2ER, UK. Email: ann.buchanan@socres.ox.ac.uk

Abstract

Objective: To assess the relationship between risk and protective factors and the continuity of psychological problems from age 7 to age 33.

Methods: Data on 5591 cohort members of the National Child Development Study were used to track continuity and discontinuity between internalizing and externalizing problems at age 7, as assessed by the Rutter ‘A’ Health and Behaviour Checklist, and psychological distress at age 33, as assessed by the Malaise Inventory, controlling for risk and protective groupings present at age 7.

Results: There was no association between malaise in adulthood and internalizing problems in childhood. However, people who had externalizing problems in childhood were nearly twice as likely as those without such problems to have high Malaise scores in adulthood. A grouping of risk factors (police/probation experience by family, agency referral for difficulties in school, social services involvement, domestic tension) did not predict malaise in adulthood. Also a grouping of protective factors (outings with mother, father reads to child, good creative skills, good numeric skills) predicted that women were less likely to have high Malaise scores in adult life.

Conclusions: Protective factors in childhood were strongly associated with lower Malaise scores in adulthood. Research on factors associated with discontinuity of psychological problems may prove fruitful.

Ancillary