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Clinical and Research News
Parenting, Development Problems Predict Mental Illness in Infants
Psychiatric News
Volume 43 Number 13 page 17-26

If a child is a terrible sleeper or eater during the first months of life it does not mean that he or she is going to experience poor mental health during the second year.

But if the child's relationship with its parents during the first few months is disturbed, mental health problems in the second year might be the outcome.

These are some of the implications to emerge from a study headed by Anne Mette Skovgaard, M.D., an associate professor of health sciences at Denmark's University of Copenhagen. Results appeared in the May Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

In 2000 Skovgaard and her colleagues launched a longitudinal study called the Copenhagen Child Cohort (CCC 2000) to investigate developmental psychopathology prospectively from birth in a general population. The study included 6,090 children, or 9 percent of children born in Denmark that year. The researchers then randomly selected 306 children from the cohort for this leg of the study. Out of the 306, 210 participated.

Various instruments were used to evaluate the 210 children's development during the first 10 months of life as well as the quality of parenting they experienced during this time. And once the children reached 1.5 years of age, clinical observations and videotape recordings were used in combination with standardized measures to diagnose mental health disturbances according to the ICD and Diagnostic Classification Zero to Three. Out of the 210 subjects, 73 were found to have an eating disorder, a sleeping disorder, or other disorder.

Finally, Skovgaard and her colleagues found that there were links between a child's development and parenting experiences during the first 10 months of life and its mental health at 1.5 years of age.

Delays in cognitive functioning, poor language development, and aberrations in social communication during the first 10 months of life significantly predicted any psychiatric disorder and especially a neurodevelopmental one at 1.5 years of age. Moreover, being an unwanted child or being abused by a parent significantly predicted a relationship disturbance at 1.5 years of age. And eating problems that started after age 6 months significantly predicted an eating disorder at 1.5 years of age.

However, eating problems that started before 6 months of age did not significantly predict a psychiatric disorder at 1.5 years of age; nor did sleeping problems from birth to 10 months.

Thus, it looks as if certain factors that a child experiences during his or her first year of life can impact mental health during the second year of life, Skovgaard and her team concluded. Further research in this growing field of infant and toddler psychiatry will lead to innovative ways to treat and prevent mental illness in the very young, the researchers said.

An abstract of "Predictors (0-10 Months) of Psychopathology at Age One-and-a-HalfYears—A General Population Study in the Copenhagen Child Cohort CCC 2000" is posted at<www.blackwell-synergy.com/loi/jcpp>.

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