Young person standing on a street holding a rugsack, only their legs are showing.

Adolescent mental health problems have a link to later receipt of social assistance across income quintiles

Mental health problems in adolescence increase the likelihood of receiving social assistance in early adulthood. The link was found in a study using register data from the metropolitan area of Finland from 2005 to 2016. The youth were followed from the age of 16 to the age of 24.

The link between mental health problems and receiving social assistance was found across all income quintiles, but was highlighted by those with lower income backgrounds. This supports the study’s pre-premise on the accumulation of disadvantages. On the other hand, there were similarities inside the income quintiles of which disturbance factors were linked to access to social assistance.

The link between parental income and child health has been speculated in previous studies to contribute to the inheritance of socioeconomic status and thus inequality. In families with higher socioeconomic status, perhaps, children with mental health problems can be supported in such a way that reliance on social support is not necessary.

“The occurrence of mental health problems as well as later receipt of social assistance was more common on a lower income background. A higher proportion of those who faced mental health problems also had lower education and labour market status by the age of 24. But education and labour market status did not fully explain the link between mental health problems and subsistence support. Early detection and treatment of problems is important, as studies can also be delayed or missed if there are challenges along the way. Support should be found for everyone”, ponders researcher Taru Haula from the Finnish institute for health and welfare.

The research topic is challenging, as both mental health and receipt of social assistance can be affected by a wide range of issues. In the study, mental health problems were also considered based on visits to specialised care and drug purchases, so only problems treated in primary care or on the private side and undiagnosed cases remained unidentified.

The link between early circumstances and later socio-economic consequences is a key social policy issue. The effort is to ensure equal opportunities, but the socioeconomic status of parents still has a link to children’s later socioeconomic status. Health problems can increase barriers further and research shows that there are socioeconomic differences in the prevalence of mental health problems among adolescents. This can be one important factor that sustains socio-economic differences, especially if there is also a difference in how early the problems are detected.

The research topic is timely, as one of the objectives of the Government Programme is reducing youth being marginalised and dependent on income support. Social Security reform also seeks to reduce long-term use of income support.

“Everyone should have equal opportunities for studying and education”, says Haula

The research article: Mental health problems in youth and later receipt of social assistance: do parental resources matter?