Mental health trajectories of young people after disability onset

Maina Kariuki, Ph.D., M.Sc., B.Sc. (For), Anne Honey, Ph.D., B.App.Sc. (OT) Hons, B.Ec., Eric Emerson, Ph.D., M.Sc., B.Sc., Gwynnyth Llewellyn, Ph.D., M.Ed., B.A., Grad. Dip. Cont.Ed., Dip. OT

Australian Family and Disability Studies Research Collaboration, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, Lidcombe, NSW 1825, Australia

Disability and Health Journal
Volume 4, Issue 2, Pages 91–101, April 2011

Published Online: November 01, 2010




Young people with disabilities are at greater risk of having mental health problems than are their nondisabled peers. Most research about the relationship between disability and mental health has been cross-sectional and unable to identify mental health status prior to onset of disability or possible mental health pathways following disability. There is a lack of information, therefore, about what happens to young people’s mental health when they become disabled.


This study aimed to identify the mental health trajectories for young Australian adults after onset of self-reported disability, taking into account their predisability mental health status.


Longitudinal data from waves 1 to 7 (2001 to 2007) of the survey of Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) were analyzed using a growth mixture modeling approach.


Three distinct mental health trajectories were identified for the 136 young people reporting onset of ongoing disability. The majority (64.7%) of respondents experienced positive mental health before and following onset of disability. However, a significant minority (35.3%) experienced either (a) low mental health both prior to and following onset of disability (19.1%) or (b) mental health deterioration following onset of disability (16.2%).


Targeting appropriate interventions to the young people with disabilities in these 2 groups could have a significant impact on enduring mental health status.