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Simmons College Wins Grant to Find Links Between Family Environment and Adult Mental Health

Social Work Professor to Study Family Influences on Adult Mental Health

BOSTON (October 2, 2007) — Simmons College School of Social Work Professor Helen Reinherz, head of the nation's longest-running study of predictors of poor or good mental health from early childhood onward, has received a major federal grant to study the influence of family factors on adult mental health.
The study, "How Does the Family Matter? Influences of Child and Adolescent Family Factors on Adult Mental Health and Functioning," will identify the long-term effects of child and adolescent family environments on adult mental health and functioning, by analyzing findings from nearly three decades of data collected on children from kindergarten through their mid-30s.

The study was one of only four projects of this type in the nation funded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the federal government, and the only social work project.

The  study will determine how family environments experienced between the ages of five and 15 can help predict mental disorders, behavioral problems, and social, occupational, and health functioning by age 30. It also will examine family risk variablesæsuch as family violence and mental disordersæand health-promoting variables, including family cohesion and social support.

The findings will have direct implication for family support and educational programs promoting healthy child and adolescent development, and help with the design of effective screening and intervention programs for women and children who are at risk for poor mental health.

For 30 years, Reinherz has served as principal investigator of the Simmons Longitudinal Study, the nation's longest-running study of predictors of good or poor mental health from early childhood onward.  Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, researchers followed nearly 400 residents of Quincy, MA, from the time they entered kindergarten in 1977 until their mid-30s today. 

They interviewed the children, their parents and teachers at key points in their lives, looking for major risk and protective factors that are likely to lead to mental health problems in adulthood, or to serve as buffers from life's rough spots. The study was designed to help parents, teachers, mental health professionals, policy makers and others improve early identification and treatment of mental health issues.

Reinherz will analyze data from the longitudinal study to look for family influences on adult mental health. 

For more information describing the work of the study and publications about some of its findings, visit the Simmons Longitudinal Study website.