Mental health competence at age 11 and its assoication with health behaviour at age 14: Findings from the UK Millennium Cohort Study

Mental health from pre-conception to early adolescence
Thursday 26 July, 1320 – 1340


Steven Hope
UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health

Mental health competence (MHC) in young people may have the potential to support health and wellbeing, and buffer against the negative impacts of exposure to behavioural and socioeconomic risks. We investigated the relationship between MHC (competencies in two age-relevant domains: learning skills and prosociality) and later adverse health behaviours, using data from a United Kingdom-representative population cohort, the Millennium Cohort Study (~18,000 children born 2000–2002). We developed a measure of MHC at age 11 using latent class analysis (LCA), identifying four classes: High learning skills & high prosocial behaviour (36%); Moderate learning skills & high prosocial behaviour (36%); Moderate learning skills & moderate prosocial behaviour (19%); and Low learning skills & moderate prosocial behaviour (9%).
Although most children displayed moderate to high MHC, levels were lower in children from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Children with higher MHC were less likely to report any of a range of adverse health behaviours at age 14. After accounting for potential confounders, compared to the highest MHC group, adverse outcomes were more likely in those with the lowest MHC (e.g., binge drinking: Relative Risk Ratio (RRR)=1.6[95% Confidence Interval 1.1-2.3]; trying cigarettes: Odds Ratio (OR)=2.1[1.5-2.9]; illegal drugs: OR=1.9[1.3-2.9]; and antisocial behaviour OR=1.8[1.2-2.6].
We also investigated the potential buffering effect of MHC. For example, when exposed to parental smoking, children with moderate to high MHC were less likely to smoke at age 14 compared to those with the lowest MHC. Improving MHC skills in mid-childhood may provide opportunities to support healthy development and reduce social inequalities in adolescence.