Anxious childhood behaviour linked to later disorders

Stock photo: Getty
Being brought to tears easily, regularly appearing sad and miserable, and being a loner in childhood may lead to anxiety disorders later in life, new research has found.

University of Otago (Christchurch) PhD student Nathan Monk’s research tracked 15 common anxious behaviours among 7 to 9-year-olds in the Christchurch Health and Development Study (CHDS) — a longitudinal study of 1265 children, born in Christchurch over a four-month period during 1977.

The group studied are now in their mid-40s.

He and his co-authors found several observed childhood behaviours — including a tendency to cry easily and often, a tendency to do things alone, as well as regularly appearing sad and miserable — all carried a heightened risk for adolescent and adult anxiety.

However, other behaviours such as shyness with other children, being submissive or fearful of authority and afraid of people in general, carried no heightened risk of the child developing anxiety, Mr Monk said.

CHDS data previously identified surprisingly high rates of anxiety disorder among the cohort group studied, highlighting the importance of identifying early risk factors, especially among girls.

Nearly half (49%) of females met the diagnostic criteria for anxiety disorder during adolescence (14-21 years). That figure dropped slightly to 48% during adulthood (21-40 years).

Males were also found to meet the criteria for anxiety disorders at high rates. Just over a quarter (27%) were diagnosed during adolescence, rising to 31% in adulthood.

Canterbury District Health Board child and adolescent psychiatrist and University of Otago (Christchurch) lecturer Dr Kat Donovan said the research reinforced the importance of actively developing social skills and management of emotions, especially in the first 1000 days of a child’s life, where parents played a key role.

"It’s tough for parents and whanau to see their child in distress but it’s important they help them tolerate their feelings and not avoid them, by encouraging them to be in situations which are challenging and providing them with opportunities to be exposed to those situations.

"However, if they don’t feel they have the skills to cope with certain behaviours, they should seek out parenting courses or professional support."

Mr Monk stressed caution in interpreting his findings as they were among the first of their kind, requiring replication among other groups before too much could be read into them.

"Mental disorders are incredibly complex and arise from processes that we don’t yet understand well."

Add a Comment



Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter