BODY WATCH : Linking Mental Health to Education : Research: Psychiatric disorders cause millions of Americans to leave school, leading to a vicious cycle of underemployment and demands on entitlements, experts say.


Psychiatric disorders have cut short the education of nearly 7 million Americans, say University of Michigan researchers, who found that development of mental problems early in life is a better predictor of how far someone will go in school than nearly all other factors--including parents’ social class and family structure.

Their study is drawn from the National Comorbidity Survey of more than 8,000 Americans from 1990 to 1992. It found that 14% of high school dropouts and 5% of high school graduates who never enter college, as well as 5% of college dropouts, have a history of psychiatric disorders.


Conduct disorders and substance abuse accounted for the largest number of high school dropouts for both men and women, the study found.


Anxiety disorders were the most common psychiatric diagnosis among women who dropped out of college.

“More than 7 million people in the United States prematurely terminated their education because of early-onset psychiatric disorders, and only a small fraction will later complete either high school or college,” says Ronald C. Kessler, a University of Michigan sociologist and the lead author of the study, which appeared in last month’s issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

This problem leads to a cycle of underemployment, less “full functioning in civic life and greater demands on social-welfare entitlements,” he says.

The societal costs of dealing with this downward spiral make it clear that “we cannot afford to forgo the opportunity to develop early interventions and treatments to prevent these costly consequences for society and some of its most vulnerable citizens,” he says.