New report shows financial cost of childhood psychological problems in adult life

A new reportsuggests that poor childhood mental health could be costing the UK a total of£550 billion in lost earnings.

According to newresearch from the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), the Institute for FiscalStudies (IFS) and the Rand Corporation, people who experience psychologicalhealth problems in childhood will lose more than £300,000 in income, onaverage, during their lives.

The researchersestimate that there are 1.8 million households (4.3m people) that have beenaffected by mental health issues during childhood.

The study pointsout that adults who struggled with psychological problems as children tend towork fewer hours and earn less money, and are more likely to experienceunemployment. They are also more likely to marry partners who earn less, andtheir quality of life often does not improve as they get older.

At 23 they earn20 per cent less than those who have not experienced childhood psychologicalproblems. At 33 they are 24 per cent worse off, and at 50 they earn almost athird less (30%).

The researchersanalysed information gathered on 17,000 members of the National ChildDevelopment Study between 1958 and 2008. They reviewed data from physical andpsychological medical examinations and surveys, as well as information on adultearnings, employment, education and relationship status.

Dr James P.Smith, Chair in Labour Markets and Demographic Studies at the Rand Corporationsaid that the long-term impact of mental health problems in childhood faroutweighs the effect of even poor physical health on family income.

“In both theUK and US, the total economic costs of psychological health problems inchildhood are much larger than physical health problems,” he says. At age42, for example, UK adults who experienced childhood psychological problemsearn almost a third less, on average, than those who had a major physicalproblem in their youth.

Dr Smith alsoacknowledges that childhood psychological issues are associated with othertypes of cost that are even more difficult to measure. “Although we havecalculated the costs from a purely economic perspective, we have not begun tocount the psychological and physical costs to the individuals, and theirfamilies and friends. Our research underestimates the total damage beingdone.”

Childhoodpsychological health was assessed by whether children had received anypsychological or psychiatric treatment, or had been diagnosed with moderate orsevere problems by a psychiatrist.

Dr Smith and hisUK colleagues also studied the results of assessments involving doctors andparents which measured children’s conduct, hyperactivity, emotional problemsand social engagement.

In this part oftheir analysis the researchers also drew on data gathered by two other studies– the 1970 British Cohort Study and the Millennium Cohort Study.

They found thatchildren who had a mother with mental health problems were more than twice aslikely (26%) to experience psychological difficulties as those who had a fatherwith mental health issues (12%).

Those from thelowest income families were four times more likely (16%) to displaypsychological problems than children from the richest families (4%). Sixty percent of children in the lowest income families who had a mental health problemhad not seen a psychologist.

“In manycases, this is a family issue and not simply a child issue. So, treatments forthe child only are often not enough,” Dr Smith explains. “However,there should be a concerted effort to identify these issues earlier inchildhood, and governments around the world should be investing far moreheavily in identifying therapies which work.

“This couldhugely improve many people’s quality of life. The pound and dollar returnscould be enormous too.”

Alun Thomas,Chief Executive of Welsh mental health charity Hafal, said: “What thestudy confirms is that it’s essential that young people showing symptoms ofillness are treated as quickly as possible before their illness develops andthey become very unwell, as this could have a hugely negative impact on manyareas of their lives in the longer-term.”