Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Teens With Classmates Diagnosed With Mental Illness More Likely To Be Diagnosed Themselves

Teens who have one or more classmates with a mental disorder are more likely to be diagnosed with one themselves later in life than those who do not have any classmates with a mental disorder, according to a report in JAMA Psychiatry. The risk of a mental illness diagnosis was greatest in the first year following the diagnosis of a classmate.

Being exposed to a peer with a mental disorder may aid in “normalization of mental disorders through increased awareness and receptivity to diagnosis and treatment,” wrote Jussi Alho, Ph.D., of the University of Helsinki, Finland, and colleagues. “Similarly, having individuals with no diagnosis in the peer network might discourage seeking help for any underlying mental health problems.”

Alho and colleagues used Finnish national health and school registries to examine mental disorder diagnoses among more than 700,000 individuals born between 1985 and 1997. The cohort was followed from August 1 of the ninth grade (approximately age 16) until a diagnosis of mental disorder, emigration, death, or December 31, 2019. The researchers adjusted findings to control for a wide range of variables that might affect diagnosis—parental educational level, income, and mental health; area-level education, employment, and urbanicity; and school and class size.

Among the cohort, 47,433 individuals had a mental disorder diagnosis by the ninth grade. Of the remaining cohort members, 167,227 (25.1%) received a mental disorder diagnosis during the follow-up. There was no increased risk of a mental disorder diagnosis among teens with one diagnosed classmate across the whole follow-up, but a 5% increase with more than one diagnosed classmate.

During the first year of follow-up, teens with one diagnosed classmate had a 9% increased risk of a mental disorder diagnosis, while teens with multiple diagnosed classmates had an 18% increased risk. Mood, anxiety, and eating disorders were the most common diagnoses following exposure.

Alho and colleagues wrote that the heightened risk early in follow-up “challenges the likelihood of harmful contagion occurring without an already existing, undiagnosed disorder,” but acknowledged that for some diagnoses such as eating disorders, transmission could also occur through peer social influence.

“Prevention and intervention measures that consider potential peer influences on early-life mental health could substantially reduce the disease burden of mental disorders in society,” the researchers concluded.

For related information see the Psychiatric News article, “Teen ‘Social Media Induced’ Illness Requires Careful Workups.”

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