Mental health and the PATH to midlife

May 2017

Associate Professor Rebecca McKetin

Associate Professor Timothy Slade
Professor Louisa Degenhardt

Other investigators: 

Associate Professor Peter Butterworth, University of Melbourne (lead investigator)
Professor Kaarin Anstey, Australian National University
Associate Professor Nicolas Cherbuin, Australian National University
Dr Richard Burns, Australian National University
Dr Liana Leach, Australian National University
Professor Paul McNamee, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

Project description: 

Mental disorders such as anxiety and depression are the leading cause of disability amongst Australians from early adulthood through to midlife. However, there is a dearth of longitudinal data tracking anxiety and depression across this period of the lifecourse: information needed to understand patterns of onset, remission, relapse and chronicity. Further, the established measures of disease burden (eg QALYs) are limited in scope and do not capture the social and economic impact of anxiety and depression, nor their impact on families, friends and communities. Thus our estimates of the costs and consequences of these mental disorders are incomplete. Such information is essential to design and target treatment to meet the needs of people with anxiety and depression, and to evaluate the benefits of prevention.

The PATH to Midlife project will address this gap in our understanding of anxiety and depression. The project extends to midlife the longitudinal coverage of a large community study: the PATH through Life project. The PATH project commenced in 1999 with a sample of 2404 respondents aged in their early 20s, selected from Canberra and the surrounding region. This project will collect new data from around 1900 of these participants who will now be aged between 37 and 44 years (the fifth time many have participated in the study). With this new resource we will analyse trajectories of anxiety and depression from early adulthood to midlife, identifying patterns of comorbidity and risk profiles.

Substance use across this life period (including risky alcohol consumption, tobacco smoking and illicit substance use) will be amongst a number of risk factors for mid-life outcomes considered in this study. Hence, the study will provide new information on how substance use in early adulthood relates to mental health and other outcomes in mid-life, and conversely how anxiety and depression in early adulthood affects substance use patterns in later adulthood.

Midlife is a critical point in the lifecourse at which work, family and personal achievements and responsibilities coalesce. PATH collects detailed data across a wide range of personal, social and economic domains (eg physical health, cognitive functioning, family/social relationships, work). Sophisticated longitudinal analysis of this rich new data source will identify the broader consequences of anxiety and depression across adulthood.