• June 2016
  • Vol. 17, No. 4

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Predictors of Coexisting Mental Health Disorders

An article in the American Psychological Association's Traumatology journal reports on a study that analyzed 1,038 case records and interview data of Casey Family Programs alumni in 13 States to assess prefoster care, foster care, and postfoster care predictors of comorbidity, defined as two and three or more mental health diagnoses. According to the study, childhood behavioral disorders and trauma are predictors of coexisting mental health disorders in foster care alumni and underscore the need for comprehensive mental health assessments for this vulnerable population.

The study found that the trauma-related risk factors for comorbidity were "exceptionally high" among foster care alumni, pointing to National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect statistics showing that more than half of the children in foster care have experienced neglect (53 percent), 15.3 percent have suffered physical abuse, 4.4 percent sexual abuse, and 28.2 percent parental substance abuse. The authors point to several studies showing three or more mental health disorders among foster care alumni, including major depression, panic disorder, alcohol or drug dependence, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eating disorders. Results from this study showed that 10.4 percent of all alumni experienced three or more disorders, 9.8 percent had two co-occurring diagnoses, and 20.8 percent had a single diagnosis. PTSD was found to be the most prevalent, occurring in 21.6 percent of alumni, followed by major depression (15.1 percent), social phobia (12.1 percent), panic disorder (11.4 percent), generalized anxiety disorder (9.3 percent), drug dependence (3.8 percent), alcohol dependence (3.7 percent), and bulimia (2.7 percent).

Alumni who reported their foster parents as "helpful" experienced less comorbidity than those who did not. The authors highlight this to emphasize that a quality foster parent-foster child relationship has significant implications for long-term well-being.

"Childhood Behavioral Disorders and Trauma: Predictors of Comorbid Mental Disorders Among Adult Foster Care Alumni," by Lovie J. Jackson Foster, Jonathan Yabes, Kirk O'Brien, Chereese M. Phillips, Joshua Breslau, Elizabeth Miller, and Peter J. Pecora, Traumatology, 21(3), 2015, is available through the American Psychological Association at http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/trm/21/3/119/.

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