Family structure and childhood mental disorders: new findings from Australia
- 1.9k Downloads
Many children now live in non-traditional families—including one-parent, blended, and step families. While a substantial body of international evidence indicates that these children display poorer cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes than children living in traditional families, research on childhood mental disorders is scarce. This report provides new evidence of the relationships between family structure and childhood mental disorders in an under-researched context, Australia.
We use recent, nationally representative data on children aged 4–17 from Young Minds Matter, the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Well-being (N = 6310). Mental disorders were assessed using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children—Version IV and included social phobia, separation anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder, major depressive disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and conduct disorder.
Compared to children living in original families, children in one-parent, blended, and step families experienced a higher prevalence of mental disorders. Amongst children whose parents separated, the time since separation was not statistically significantly related to the prevalence of mental disorders.
Although we are unable to assess causality, our findings highlight the strength of the association between family structure and child and adolescent mental health. They also stress the need for programs to support children, parents, and families in non-traditional family types to reduce mental health inequalities in childhood and later life.
KeywordsFamily structure Parental separation Childhood Mental disorders Australia
The authors would like to thank Rebecca Vos for research assistance. This research was supported by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course (project number CE140100027). The views expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Australian Research Council. This study uses data from Young Minds Matter which was funded by the Australian Government Department of Health. Data collection was undertaken by Roy Morgan Research. The authors would like to thank the 6310 families who gave their time to participate in the survey, Rajni Walia, Gerry Bardsley, the team at Roy Morgan Research, and the Survey Reference Group for their input into the design and conduct of the survey.
Compliance with ethical standards
The research protocol for Young Minds Matter was approved by the Australian Government Department of Health Human Research Ethics Committee, and The University of Western Australia Human Research Ethics Committee. The protocol for this study was approved by The University of Western Australia Human Research Ethics Committee. All research has been undertaken in accordance with Australia’s National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research.
Conflict of interest
On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.
- 4.Bergström M, Modin B, Fransson E, Rajmil L, Berlin M, Gustafsson PA, Hjern A (2013) Living in two homes—a Swedish national survey of wellbeing in 12 and 15 year olds with joint physical custody. BMC Public Health 13:868. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/13/868
- 29.Bzostek S, Beck A. Working Paper 08-11-FF. Center for Research on Child Wellbeing; Princeton: 2008. Family structure and child health outcomes in fragile familiesGoogle Scholar
- 34.Achenbach TM, Rescorla LA (2001) Manual for the ASEBA School-Age Forms and Profiles. University of Vermont, Research Center for Children, Youth, and Families, BurlingtonGoogle Scholar
- 36.Offord DR, Boyle MH, Fleming JE, Munroe-Blum H, Grant NI (1989) Ontario Child Health Study: summary of selected results. Can J Psychiaty 34(6):483–491Google Scholar
- 48.Sawyer MG, Arney FM, Baghurst PA et al (2000) Mental health of young people in Australia. Mental Health and Special Programs Branch, Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged CareGoogle Scholar
- 55.Shaffer D, Fisher P, Lucas C, Dulcan MK, Schwab-Stone ME (2000) NIMH Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children, Version IV (NIMH DISC-IV): description, differences from previous versions and reliability of some common diagnoses. J Am Acad Child Psychiatry 39:28–38Google Scholar
- 57.Wolter KM (2007) Introduction to variance estimation, 2nd edn. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- 58.SAS Institute Inc (2014) SAS/STAT Software, Version 9.4. SAS Institute Inc, CaryGoogle Scholar
- 59.Lawrence D, Johnson S, Hafekost J, Boterhoven de Haan K, Sawyer M, Ainley J, Zubrick SR (2015) the mental health of children and adolescents: report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Department of Health, CanberraGoogle Scholar
- 67.Eaton WW, Neufeld K, Chen L, Cai G (2000) A comparison of self-report and clinical diagnostic interviews for depression: diagnostic interview schedule and schedules for clinical assessment in neuropsychiatry in the Baltimore Epidemiologic Catchment Area Follow-Up. Arch Gen Psychiatry 57(3):217–222CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar