Authors: Schaefer, J. D., Caspi, A., Belsky, D. W., Harrington, H., Houts, R., Horwood, L, J., Hussong, A., Ramrakha, S., Poulton, R., Moffitt, T. E.
Reference: Journal of Abnormal Psychology 2017, Vol.126.No 2 212-224
Summarised on: 21 June 2018
This article is one of several publications that is based on research from the Dunedin Study. The authors’ premise is the majority of the population will experience some diagnosable mental health condition at some point in their lifetime.
As such, enduring mental health, that is the absence of any mental health condition, is the exception rather the rule. The study aim is to investigate what characteristics lead to enduring mental health.
Participants are members of the Dunedin multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (DMHDS), a 4-decade, longitude investigation of health and behaviour in a complete birth cohort. Mental disorders were ascertained using periodic sampling: every 2 to 6 years study members were interviewed about past year symptoms. Interviewers used the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children (11 -15) and the Diagnostic Interview Schedule (DIS) at ages 18-38 years. Diagnosis were made by using the relevant Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder. The interviews took place when participants were 11, 13, 15,18, 21, 26, 32 and recently 38. These interviews are referred to as waves. In other words, if a person was identified as having a mental health disorder on two separate occasions, they would have met the criteria at 2 assessment waves.
The authors use thirteen different predictors of mental health disorder and looked at midlife outcomes at age 38.
On average, participants met the criteria on 2.3 of the six assessment waves. The most common mental health disorder was brief and episodic (n= 409), this was followed by participants who had met more than one mental disorder at 3 plus waves (n =408), and finally those with enduring mental health (n =171).
When comparing those with enduring mental health to more typical mental health histories (1-2 wave groups), the groups were similar in their predictors of mental health disorder. However, participants with enduring mental health showed statistically significant advantages in childhood temperament/ personality, including fewer emotional difficulties, less social isolation and superior self-control.
Furthermore, they also had significantly fewer first and second-degree relatives who showed signs of mental disorder. Participants with enduring mental health also achieved higher levels of educational and socioeconomic attainment by the age 38 and reported higher levels of life satisfaction.
The authors conclude by suggesting that a diagnosable mental disorder at some point in a person’s life, is the norm, rather than the exception. They write ‘for many an episode of mental disorder is like influenza, bronchitis, anaemia, kidney stones, or a fractured bone – these conditions are highly prevalent, suffers experience impaired functioning in social and occupational roles, and many seek medical care, but most recover. It is our hope that increased public recognition of this fact will reduce the stigma experienced by individuals diagnosed with a mental disorder.’