Study Finds Youth with Mental Health Problems Have Difficulty Maintaining a Job as an Adult

By Kev' Moye

The study was the first of its kind to feature childhood and adolescent mental health problems and a validated measure of work functioning.

The research team — based out of the Netherlands and including Benjamin Amick, Ph.D., associate dean of research for the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health — assessed people ages 11, 13 1/2, and 16 as a youth. Meanwhile, individuals ages 19, 22, 26 and 29 were followed as adults.

The lead author, Samira de Groot commented, “It is interesting to follow the same group of children into adulthood because their mental health does not start once they begin working. Our report stresses the importance of addressing childhood and adolescence mental health problems by showing that young adults carry forward their history of mental health problems into work.”

Mental health for youth is a growing problem following the COVID-19 pandemic nationally and internationally. “Mental health is a huge issue in the U.S.,” said Amick. “The results from this report show why we have to address childhood mental health problems as an economic issue. From a life course perspective, what happens in childhood impacts our economy and affects our ability to maintain a large, well-rounded workforce. Arkansas needs to focus on childhood and adolescent mental health as an economic driver.”

The project, which focused on 18 years’ worth of data, also revealed that children and adolescents who have mental health problems often struggle academically. Ultimately, a poor academic foundation can negatively affect a person’s job opportunities, as well as whether they are work functional and able to live as a productive member of society.

“If we want to solve mental health problems, we must start by understanding why working with kids who are having issues is so important,” Amick said.

The info used for the project was from the TRracking Adolescents’ Individual Lives Survey (TRAILS). The TRAILS program is an ongoing, multidisciplinary initiative that focuses on psychological, social and physical development of adolescents and young adults.

Amick has spent decades studying various aspects of how mental health issues affect society. He has collaborated with the Netherlands research group consistently over the past 15 years.

For this report – which the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal published in its February 2022 issue – the team recommended that policy makers emphasize tracking mental health problems from childhood to young adulthood to help create a more inclusive labor market.

The team also suggested that policy makers provide better services for treating mental illnesses for young workers and children.

“Mental health is something we don’t do enough about. It impacts the workforce,” said Amick, who developed the work role functioning measure used in the project. “The stigma is bad for adults, but it’s worse for kids. We can’t let these issues persist and accumulate.”