Childhood correlates and young adult outcomes of trajectories of emotional problems from childhood to adolescence

F Tseliou, L Riglin, A K Thapar, J Heron, C A Dennison, J M Armitage, A Thapar, F Rice, S Collishaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review



Emotional problems, especially anxiety, have become increasingly common in recent generations. Few population-based studies have examined trajectories of emotional problems from early childhood to late adolescence or investigated differences in psychiatric and functional outcomes.


Using the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC, n = 8286, 50.4% male), we modeled latent class growth trajectories of emotional problems, using the parent-reported Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire emotional scale (SDQ-E) on seven occasions (4–17 years). Psychiatric outcomes in young adulthood (21–25 years) were major depressive disorder (MDD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and self-harm. Functional outcomes were exam attainment, educational/occupational status, and social relationship quality.


We identified four classes of emotional problems: low (67.0%), decreasing (18.4%), increasing (8.9%), and persistent (5.7%) problems. Compared to those in the low class, individuals with decreasing emotional problems were not at elevated risk of any poor adult outcome. Individuals in the increasing and persistent classes had a greater risk of adult MDD (RR: 1.59 95% CI 1.13–2.26 and RR: 2.25 95% CI 1.49–3.41) and self-harm (RR: 2.37 95% CI 1.91–2.94 and RR: 1.87 95% CI 1.41–2.48), and of impairment in functional domains. Childhood sleep difficulties, irritability, conduct and neurodevelopmental problems, and family adversity were associated with a persistent course of emotional problems.


Childhood emotional problems were common, but those whose symptoms improved over time were not at increased risk for adverse adult outcomes. In contrast, individuals with persistent or adolescent-increasing emotional problems had a higher risk of mental ill-health and social impairment in young adulthood which was especially pronounced for those with persistent emotional problems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological Medicine
Early online date18 Mar 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Mar 2024

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press.


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