BACKGROUND: Mental health symptoms are highly prevalent and dynamic among young people. Little is known about the trajectories of these symptoms and subsequent development of chronic conditions. This study examines whether (1) mental health trajectories can predict the onset of chronic conditions in young women and (2) trajectories are stronger predictors of the incidence of these conditions than mental health status measured at single time point.
METHODS: 6013 young Australian women were followed every 3-year for 20 years. The mental health trajectories in their 20s and mental health status 3-year before the onset of chronic conditions were used to predict the incidence of six chronic conditions in their 30s. Mental health trajectories were identified using latent mixture modelling of five-item Mental Health Index.
RESULTS: Five mental health trajectories were identified: maintaining a high score (high-stable); starting low then steadily increasing (improving); moderately high score, declining, then increasing (declining-improving); starting high then steadily decreasing (declining), and maintaining a low score (low-stable). In their 30s, 1015 (16.9%) women developed one or more conditions. The low-stable and declining groups were associated with increased odds of developing one or more conditions by 45% (odds ratio [OR] 1.45, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.09-1.94) and 48% (OR 1.48, 95% CI 1.10-1.98), respectively, compared with the high-stable group. These are not so clearly distinguished by only considering mental health status at single time.
LIMITATION: Self-reported chronic conditions.
CONCLUSION: Mental health symptom trajectories in women's 20s are associated with the onset of chronic physical conditions in their 30s.