A recent study conducted by Turku University's Child Psychiatry Research Center and the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has revealed that young individuals diagnosed with psychiatric or neuropsychiatric disorders are more likely to refrain from applying for secondary education compared to their peers.

The study compared the pursuit of secondary education among individuals born in 1987 and 1997.

While the inclination to pursue further education increased among the cohort born in 1997 compared to those born in 1987, those with psychiatric or neuropsychiatric diagnoses still displayed a growing trend of abstaining from applying.

For young people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or learning difficulties, the tendency to remain outside the realm of secondary education was most prominent. Approximately one-sixth of young individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder had not applied for secondary education. This proportion remained constant despite the threefold increase in diagnoses between the birth cohorts of 1987 and 1997. Conversely, the percentage of school dropouts suffering from learning difficulties increased from three percent to nine percent over the span of ten years.

Special attention needed for neuropsychiatric disorders

In 2021, Finland raised the age of compulsory education to 18 years. While this legislative change aims to encourage enrollment in secondary education, researchers believe that young individuals with special needs may still require additional support.

"It is deeply concerning that a diagnosis of learning difficulties was a stronger indicator of poor educational prospects in the later birth cohort," stated Ida Ringbom, a specialist in adolescent psychiatry and doctoral researcher at Turku University's Child Psychiatry Research Center.

"Young people facing neuropsychiatric challenges need support to prevent educational marginalization. Marginalization is always accompanied by human suffering and societal costs," added Assistant Professor David Gyllenberg, who led the study.

The research was conducted at the Center for Research on Inequality, Interventions, and New Welfare Society (INVEST). INVEST is a collaborative research center between Turku University and THL and is recognized as a flagship project by the Academy of Finland. Its mission is to offer Finland and other societies a more equitable and economically, demographically, and socially sustainable welfare state model. THL oversees the national birth cohort of 1987. The research team included researchers from Turku University, THL, and Helsinki University Central Hospital (HUS).

The study was published in the European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry journal at the end of June.