Growing up different can be a tough habit to break.
And that’s especially true for young children who need to navigate a world that can be confusing and overwhelming.
A new study has found that children who grow up in more than one household are at a higher risk of anxiety, depression and other mental health problems later in life.
This could be because their social networks are more fluid, says Dr Peter McVay from the University of Manchester.
“Children in more- than one home have a greater degree of freedom to experiment, to explore, to do what they want,” he says.
“This is an important learning environment.”
“And so we’re seeing a huge increase in the prevalence of depression and anxiety, which is linked to the fact that children are exposed to more stressful experiences,” says Dr McVays co-author Dr Jorgen Reiner, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University Hospital, Karlsruhe. “
The result is that children in more households may be less able than children in less households to fully understand the world around them, particularly when it comes to coping with their own emotions and concerns.”
“And so we’re seeing a huge increase in the prevalence of depression and anxiety, which is linked to the fact that children are exposed to more stressful experiences,” says Dr McVays co-author Dr Jorgen Reiner, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University Hospital, Karlsruhe.
“That’s one of the most serious health consequences of having more than two homes.”
‘No one cares’ The researchers used data from the Social Censuses of Britain and the World Health Organization to look at mental health among 818,000 children born between 1984 and 2005.
They found that boys who grew up in homes with two mothers were two times more likely to have a mental health problem in adulthood than boys in households with one mother.
“In other words, in more homes, the risk of mental health issues is two to four times higher than in the other households,” says Mr Reiner.
The study found that the risk increased by two- to four-fold for boys who lived with two parents. “
It seems to be much more pronounced in boys than girls, which we’re quite surprised to see.”
The study found that the risk increased by two- to four-fold for boys who lived with two parents.
“These effects are so striking that they can’t be explained away as a consequence of being exposed to two households,” Dr Mcvays coauthor says.
The researchers say the findings support previous research showing that parents and children who have been raised by different kinds of adults can experience similar outcomes in adulthood.
Dr Mcveer says it’s a “very important” finding, and that it could help parents and carers identify children at risk.
But the findings are important in their own right.
“Because it seems that a child who grows up in a home with two or more adults is more likely than one who growsup in a single-parent home to experience anxiety and depression,” Dr Reiner says.
Dr Reiter adds that the researchers should focus on helping parents and caregivers make the best possible choice about how to raise their children.
“There are many things parents can do to increase the likelihood of a child reaching adulthood,” he said.
“For example, they can make a more concerted effort to encourage healthy lifestyles, such as smoking cessation, eating more healthily and engaging in regular exercise.”
“There is a lot more work to be done to better understand how these patterns of parenting affect mental health in young people, and how these effects may be more pronounced among children from more diverse backgrounds.”