Comparing profiles of mental disorder across birth cohorts: Results from the 2007 Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing

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Objective: To describe and compare individuals with any DSM-IV mental disorder from three different birth cohorts - young (16-34 years), middle age (35-60 years), and older age (60-85 years) - on a range of clinically relevant factors. Methods: Data were derived from the 2007 Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Individuals from three birth cohorts with a range of mental health and substance use disorders were identified using DSM-IV criteria and compared using regression analysis. The specific factors that were compared include: 1) type of disorder/disorders present, 2) suicidality, 3) number of co-occurring disorders, 4) levels of distress and impairment, 5) self-assessed physical and mental health, 6) presence of physical conditions, 7) size and quality of social support/network, and 8) treatment seeking behaviour Results: The birth cohorts differed dramatically in terms of the specific disorders that were present. The older cohort were significantly more likely to experience internalising disorders and significantly less likely to experience externalising disorders in comparison to the young cohort. The older cohort were significantly more likely to experience co-morbid physical conditions as well as lower life satisfaction, poorer self-rated physical health, increased functional impairment, and more days out of role. The younger cohort had a significantly larger peer group that they could confide in and rely on in comparison to the older cohort. Conclusions: Clinicians and researchers need to be cognisant that mental disorders manifest as highly heterogeneous constructs. The presentation of a disorder in a younger individual could be vastly different from the presentation of the same disorder in an older individual. The additional burden associated with these factors and how they apply to different birth cohorts must be taken into consideration when planning mental health services and effective treatment for the general population.
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Sunderland, Matthew
Carragher, Natacha
Buchan, Heather
Batterham, Philip
Slade, Tim
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UNSW Faculty
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