School achievement in adolescence and the risk of mental disorders in early adulthood: a Finnish nationwide register study

Tarja Weckström, Marko Elovainio, Laura Pulkki-Råback, Kimmo Suokas, Kaisla Komulainen, Sari Mullola, Petri Böckerman, Christian Hakulinen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

School grades in adolescence have been linked to later psychiatric outcomes, but large-scale nationwide studies across the spectrum of mental disorders are scarce. In the present study, we examined the risk of a wide array of mental disorders in adulthood, as well as the risk of comorbidity, associated with school achievement in adolescence. We used population-based cohort data comprising all individuals born in Finland over the period 1980–2000 (N = 1,070,880) who were followed from age 15 or 16 until a diagnosis of mental disorder, emigration, death, or December 2017, whichever came first. Final grade average from comprehensive school was the exposure, and the first diagnosed mental disorder in a secondary healthcare setting was the outcome. The risks were assessed with Cox proportional hazards models, stratified Cox proportional hazard models within strata of full-siblings, and multinomial regression models. The cumulative incidence of mental disorders was estimated using competing risks regression. Better school achievement was associated with a smaller risk of all subsequent mental disorders and comorbidity, except for eating disorders, where better school achievement was associated with a higher risk. The largest associations were observed between school achievement and substance use disorders. Overall, individuals with school achievement more than two standard deviations below average had an absolute risk of 39.6% of a later mental disorder diagnosis. By contrast, for individuals with school achievement more than two standard deviations above average, the absolute risk of a later mental disorder diagnosis was 15.7%. The results show that the largest mental health burden accumulates among those with the poorest school achievement in adolescence.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMOLECULAR PSYCHIATRY
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2023
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 3

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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