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BEDREHELSE-Bedre helse og livskvalitet

Social inequality in adolescent mental health in a life course perspective (LONGTRENDS)

Alternative title: Sosial uliket i ungdoms psykiske helse i et livsløpsperspektiv (LONGTRENDS)

Awarded: NOK 11.9 mill.

Concerningly many children, adolescents and young adults who develop mental health problems. More are at risk among those who grow up in low-income families or whose parents have lower education, which is often referred to as social inequalities in mental health. Material factors, psychosocial conditions and behavioral patterns in childhood lay foundations for health, living conditions and community participation later in life. Some children and adolescents may be vulnerable to transitions and life events, such as switching schools, moving away from home, or divorce. For some, such incidents result in loss of social support and networks and fewer financial resources. Some also develop behavioral patterns that may pose a health risk. In this way, transitions and life events can help to reinforce social inequalities in health. The aim of the project is to increase our understanding of social inequalities in mental health in a life-course perspective. We will map social trends in mental health among adolescents with different socio-economic backgrounds, and explore the role of factors such as social support, family structure, gender, and major life events and transitions in these contexts. We also want to develop more precise methods for measuring youth socio-economic status. To reach these goals, we use data from four studies of Norwegian youth and their parents, conducted during the period from 1980-2020. The studies allow us to follow the participants' development from childhood into higher education and working life, and examine how social backgrounds are linked to mental health in different time periods. In the project, researchers and doctoral fellows collaborate to investigate parts of the main problem. The project manager coordinates the sub-projects and reporting the findings. We will disseminate widely, in scientific publications and presentations, but also in social media and through an electronic report that will be published during the project period.

The project applies a pathway model to study developmental processes and trends in social inequalities in mental health, with an emphasis on adolescent years. Socially differential background and subsequent exposure, tracking and vulnerability across the life course are proposed as potential mechanisms underlying inequality. These mechanisms are examined in four Work Packages. WP1 mainly addresses social reproduction and accumulation of mental health inequalities, and WP2 focuses on the influence of social support and connectedness in family and schools. WP3 includes international trends over the last 30 years, as well as quality and validity of measurements of social inequality. WP4 concerns coordination and management of the project, and ensures adequate exploitation of the findings in terms of academic, societal and innovative impact. The data constitute a unique combination of four studies covering ages from 7- 40 years: i) the HBSC study, a cross-national survey repeated every four years since 1985; ii) a two-generation study of a cohort born in 1977 followed up with nine surveys over 27 years (1990-2017), iii) the COMPLETE study (2016-2019) following students through three years of upper secondary school; and iv) youth@hordaland, the final wave of a series of studies of a cohort of children born in 1993-1995, which has been tracked from primary school until upper secondary school, and further into tertiary education through register linkage. The project partners constitute a strong team with national and international experts on social inequality research in public health, educational science, psychology, epidemiology, public health, implementation science and methodology. The project is expected to contribute with knowledge that can be used to improve the design, implementation and evaluation of measures that can promote mental health and reduce social inequalities in mental health.

Funding scheme:

BEDREHELSE-Bedre helse og livskvalitet