A Longitudinal Study of Mental Health in Emerging Adults: Is There a Causal Relationship Between Mental Health and the Ability to Satisfy One's Basic Needs?

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Emerging adulthood is a time of instability. This longitudinal study investigated the relationship between mental health and need satisfaction among emerging adults over a period of five years and focused on gender-specific differences. Two possible causal models were examined: (1) the mental health model, which predicts that incongruence is due to the presence of impaired mental health at an earlier point in time; (2) the consistency model, which predicts that impaired mental health is due to a higher level of incongruence reported at an earlier point in time. Emerging adults (N = 1,017) aged 18–24 completed computer-assisted telephone interviews in 2003 (T1), 2005 (T2), and 2008 (T3). The results indicate that better mental health at T1 predicts a lower level of incongruence two years later (T2), when prior level of incongruence is controlled for. The same cross-lagged effect is shown for T3. However, the cross-lagged paths from incongruence to mental health are marginally associated when prior mental health is controlled for. No gender differences were found in the cross-lagged model. The results support the mental health model and show that incongruence does not have a long-lasting negative effect on mental health. The results highlight the importance of identifying emerging adults with poor mental health early to provide support regarding need satisfaction.

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