Ability to adapt key to better mental health

While it’s commonly thought that an unhappy childhood may result in mental health issues later in life, according to new research from the University of South Australia, a happy and secure childhood doesn’t always protect against mental illness – rather it’s our ability to adapt to unexpected scenarios that may have a bigger influence on mental health.

The study, conducted in partnership with the University of Canberra and published in Current Psychology, did show that people who had adverse and unpredictable early life experiences had elevated symptoms of poor mental health but also showed that children who grew up in stable and supportive environments were also at risk of experiencing symptoms of anxiety in adulthood.

This finding, according to lead research and PhD candidate, UniSA’s Bianca Kahl, highlights the indiscriminate nature of mental illness and reveals key insights about potential risk factors for children.

“As the prevalence of mental health conditions expands, it’s imperative that we also extend our knowledge of this very complex and varied condition,” says Ms Kahl.

“This research shows that mental health conditions are not solely determined by early life events, and that a child who is raised in a happy home, could still grow up to have a mental disorder.

“There’s certainly some missing factors in understanding how our childhood environment and early life experiences might translate into mental health outcomes in adulthood.

“We suspect that it’s our expectations about our environments and our ability to adapt to scenarios when our expectations are not being met, that may be influencing our experience of distress.”

Ms Kahl adds that our ability to adapt to unexpected situations being protective against mental health issues, if children “learn how to adapt to change, and learn how to cope when things do not go [their] way, [they] may be in a better position to respond to stress and other risk factors for poor mental health”.

For more information and to read the study, visit: scimex.org/newsfeed/happy-childhood-thats-no-guarantee-for-good-mental-health