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Social Isolation and Mental Health at Primary and Secondary School Entry: A Longitudinal Cohort Study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225–232
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Volume54
Issue number3
Early online date24 Dec 2014
DOIs
E-pub ahead of print24 Dec 2014
PublishedMar 2015

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  • Matthews_2015_Social_isolation_and_mental_health

    Matthews_2015_Social_isolation_and_mental_health.docx, 48.4 KB, application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.wordprocessingml.document

    Uploaded date:28 Jan 2016

    Version:Accepted author manuscript

    Licence:CC BY

King's Authors

Abstract

Objective
We tested whether children who are socially isolated early in their schooling develop mental health problems in early adolescence, taking into account their mental health and family risk at school entry.

Method
We used data from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, a birth cohort of 2,232 children born in England and Wales in 1994 and 1995. We measured social isolation using mothers’ and teachers’ reports at ages 5 and 12. We assessed mental health symptoms via mothers’ and teachers’ ratings at age 5 and self-report measures at age 12.We collected mother-reported information about the family environment when children were 5 years old. We conducted regression analyses to test concurrent and longitudinal associations between early family factors, social isolation, and mental health difficulties.

Results
At both primary and secondary school, children who were socially isolated experienced greater mental health difficulties. Children with behavioral problems or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms at age 5 had an elevated risk of becoming more socially isolated at age 12. However, children who were isolated at age 5 did not have greater mental health symptoms at age 12, over and above pre-existing difficulties.

Conclusion
Although social isolation and mental health problems co-occur in childhood, early isolation does not predict worse mental health problems later on. However, children who exhibit problematic behaviors may struggle to cope with the social challenges that accompany their progression through the early school years.

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