Mental health competence may help protect teens from risky health behaviours

31 Oct 2020
Mental health competence may help protect teens from risky health behaviours

Good mental health competence (MHC), such as prosocial behaviours (PS) and learning skills (S), helps children avoid risky health behaviours during midadolescence, a recent study has shown.

Using maternal responses to eight questions from the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, the researchers categorized 10,141 adolescents into four groups according to their MHC at 11 years of age: high (high PS and LS), high-moderate (high PS, moderate LS), moderate (moderate PS and LS), and low (moderate PS, low LS).

Study outcomes included risky health behaviours at 14 years of age, including the use of e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes, alcohol, and illegal drugs, as well as antisocial behaviours and sexual contact with peers in the same age group.

Most of the participants were deemed to be of high or high-moderate MHC (36 percent each) at age 11 years, and only 19 percent and 9 percent had low-moderate and low MHC, respectively.

However, nearly half of the children reported that they had tried alcohol by the age of 14 years, and 11 percent had engaged in binge drinking. In addition, 17 percent had ever tried cigarette smoking and 18 percent had used e-cigarettes. The other risky behaviours were less prevalent, with frequencies ranging from 6 percent to 10 percent.

Risky behaviours were significantly more likely to arise in adolescents with lower MHC. For instance, in the adjusted analyses, those with low MHC were around twice as likely to have tried cigarette smoking (relative risk ratio [RRR], 2.2, 95 percent confidence interval [CI], 1.6–3.1) and illegal drugs (RRR, 2.0, 95 percent CI, 1.3–3.1), and exhibit antisocial behaviours (RRR, 1.9, 95 percent CI, 1.3–2.7).

Notably, those who had moderate or even high-moderate MHCs at age 11 years were still at a significantly greater risk of engaging in risky behaviours at age 14 years, though with slightly lower magnitudes of effect.

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