Transitioning From Childhood to Adulthood with Mental Illness

Children with mental illness have a variety of services available to them through state, community, and private organizations. But when children enter adulthood, they often lose many of those opportunities. It is during this time that many young people first experience symptoms of mental illness, including depression and schizophrenia. However, when they reach adulthood, many of those most at need for assistance and mental health services may not be eligible. Katy Kaplan of the College of health Professions and Social Work at Temple University in Pennsylvania wanted to find out how young adults with mental illness were adjusting when compared to older mentally ill adults.

In a recent study, Kaplan assessed 233 emerging adults with mental illness and 1,594 mature adults with mental illness. She looked at their participation in several areas of life, including volunteering, work, college, parenting, civic orientation, religious/spiritual engagement, group activity, friendships, peer networks, and intimate romantic relationships, and evaluated how involvement in these areas affected their overall quality of life and life satisfaction. She found that although both mature and emerging adults had achieved appropriate milestones for their developmental stage, emerging adults’ quality and meaning of life scores were much higher than those of mature adults. This was the case even though college enrollment and active employment were much lower in the emerging adults. Also, spirituality and peer support were higher in the mature adults, but did not significantly improve their quality of life measures.

Kaplan believes many factors contribute to these results. First, older adults have lived with mental illness longer than young adults. They may be more skeptical of taking a positive outlook and may have more experience with the challenges presented by their mental illness than younger adults. Also, young adults may have lower levels of spirituality as a natural way of exploring their own identity and rejecting any religious or spiritual associations of their parents. Regardless of the high levels of life satisfaction among the young participants, these results clearly show that more needs to be done to meet their mental health and social needs. “Emerging adults should have access to programs designed to support their transition to adulthood, such as supported education and employment programs,” said Kaplan.

Kaplan, Katy, Mark S. Salzer, and Eugene Brusilovskiy. Community participation as a predictor of recovery-oriented outcomes among emerging and mature adults with mental illnesses. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal 35.3 (2012): 219-29. Print.

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  • Cole


    February 2nd, 2013 at 4:42 AM

    A good support system from the family of the individual will be vital to get care for this young person making that transition from one stage of life to the next.
    There must be an understanding that in many of these cases life will be different, expectations will be different, and maybe over time the treatment will be different too.
    It is a good idea to start talking about this with the patient’s doctors very early on so that you can begin to explore the resources that will be available and how to make that transition go a little more smoothly.

  • james


    February 2nd, 2013 at 7:10 AM

    What do you mean that the resources are not as widely available for adults when they need mental health assistance? Is it because most programs are specifically only available for younger patients?

  • Ciara


    February 3rd, 2013 at 6:01 AM

    This must be hard on the parents too, knowing everything that they have had to do to get their child to this point but also realizing that the child could lose all of the additional help that they have come to depend on just because they are turning 18.

    Who decided that just because someone turns a certain age that the services that have always helped them in life will no longer be necessary?

  • ashley e

    ashley e

    February 3rd, 2013 at 11:35 PM

    results are good in fact.. I expected younger adults to struggle with the entrance into adult and their mental illness at the same time. but I suppose their youth and positive outlook triumphs over that barrier..

    but these good results mean nothing if we don’t continually make things better for them. the fact that support systems actually dwindle at a time when their life stage is changing is not a good predicament.. they need more support. not everyone has family support readily available and if they are provided with avenues for the same we may see even better results.

  • verly


    February 4th, 2013 at 3:50 AM

    The services need to be across the board
    These are not services that should go away
    As a matter of fact they should be expanded as an adult is going to have to go it on their own a little more than young people would have to
    The support system is often going to fall away as the patient gets older
    That’s why it’s so critical to keep resources available for them



    February 4th, 2013 at 8:27 AM

    The journey is not an easy one. Combining the issues that adolescent face with the illness and it can turn into a big problem if not handled well.

    And Cole, I completely agree with you. There is a lot that family can do and it may even be the difference between a smooth transition and a bumpy one at that!

  • Percy


    February 4th, 2013 at 3:48 PM

    I think this is an excellent topic for discussion.So many new programs are introduced to help people in need.But people as everything else undergo changes and transitions.We should ask this question each time a new program is introduced-Will this help the person even a few years down the line?Will the help be holistic in nature?

    Without a continual support,the help that comes initially may even turn out to be a negative thing in the long run.Getting used to benefits may not augur well for a future when those benefits no more exist.

  • bess


    February 5th, 2013 at 3:54 AM

    Sounds like a good rule of thumb for parents with children with mental illness to get them involved, have other people around them that they can turn to for support so that there is this built in support system for the child as he grows up and has to take on much more responsibility for himself.

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