Study links mental health, education results

Queen’s professor wins award for research

Steven Lehrer, health economics professor, says it’s important to understand the long-term effects of ADHD in children because ADHD manifests itself in early childhood.
Steven Lehrer, health economics professor, says it’s important to understand the long-term effects of ADHD in children because ADHD manifests itself in early childhood.

Inattention due to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and depression relates to how long children and adolescents stay in school, a new study by Queen’s health economics professor Steven Lehrer says.

Lehrer and Jason Fletcher of Yale University won the Victor R. Fuchs Research Award, valued at $10,000, for their paper, which was published in Forum for Health Economics & Policy research journal.

The research links children’s and teen’s mental health with education outcomes, such as time spent in school, and shows that children with inattentive symptoms will spend about one year less in school on average than children without.

“The big problem is that the kids were not diagnosed properly. Mental health conditions are harder to diagnose,” Lehrer said, adding that an improvement to address this issue would be to introduce more mental health specialists in elementary schools.

“Most people who look at the effects of health look at obesity,” he said, adding that inattention is an important factor that can have future implications in children’s health as well.

Lehrer said he and Fletcher want to understand the long-term effects of ADHD in children, especially since ADHD manifests itself in early childhood.

It’s easier to change habits and treat people earlier on to get them back on track, he said. It’s hard for parents to get their children to annual check-ups.

It’s also harder for parents to know how to get psychological services for their children, he said.

The main link in their study is between health and education because it’s important in leading to further discoveries of health treatments and benefits for adolescents, he said.

One area of their study focuses on genetic variation between biological siblings. “We wanted to look within families and see whether these differences in genetic inheritance can explain differences in health, and whether we can use the information to observe health on socioeconomic outcomes,” he said.

Lehrer said their paper launched a new research design, a “genetic lottery” identification strategy, which focuses on the how siblings differ in genetic inheritance.

There are different combinations of genes that parents pass down to children; if one gene is involved in leading to poor health, then it’s random as to which child in the family will get that gene, he said.

There are hopes the new research design will have positive implications for scientists, he said.

“Information on molecular genetic data will become increasingly available, giving social scientists information on ways to best utilize it,” Lehrer said, adding that the “genetic lottery” is a credible identification strategy that other scientists can use, especially in social sciences and health services research fields.

Alex Merritt, ArtSci ’12, volunteers at the AMS Peer Support Centre, which offers support and guidance to students in non-academic areas.

Merritt said she thinks examining the links between health and education is important to look into for university students as well as for younger students.

“Starting in adolescence, people go through many changes,” she said.

Teenagers and university students deal with a lot of changes and stresses in a short amount of time, she said, which is why they would benefit from targeting mental health issues early in their lives.

“Guidance counsellors and teachers in middle school are a huge resource,” she said, adding that it would be interesting to implement further mental health resources to benefit people of this age group.

Merritt said she thinks the use of mental health resources on campus is evidence there’s a need for this line of research.

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