Health problems in adolescents clearly mirrored in educational levels

Many young people who at the age of 10 to 16 have undergone specialised care for their health problems have dropped out of upper secondary education at the age of 17. These associations persist in adulthood, as those with prior health problems are almost twice as likely as their peers to have comprehensive school as their highest level of education when they reach the age of 21. These findings were uncovered in a study conducted at the University of Helsinki.

According to the study, young people with mental health problems during early adolescence in particular are more likely to drop out of upper secondary education. At the age of 21, one-fifth of them have no upper secondary level qualifications, nor are they participating in education leading to such qualifications.

A smaller likelihood of continuing to study was also found in adolescents who have suffered concussion from 10 to 16 years of age, or who have had epilepsy, congenital heart problems or back trouble.

“On the other hand, adolescents with type 1 diabetes or asthma do not seem to drop out after comprehensive school more often than others,” says Janne Mikkonen, a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki.

The study examined the register data of over a hundred thousand Finns born in 1988–1995 concerning the use of specialised care, participation in education and completed degrees. The connections identified between health problems in adolescence and dropping out of education are not explained by parental education, household income, family type or region of residence.

More support for educational paths

Health problems in early adolescence may explain as much as 20 per cent of those individuals who drop out after comprehensive school.

“The results indicate that if the fraction attributable to health problems were to be removed, dropout rates would decrease by as much as 20 per cent compared to today. Based on this, some adolescents with prior health problems require more support for their educational path than they currently receive,” Mikkonen believes.

In recent years, over 15 per cent of Finns 20 to 29 years of age have only completed comprehensive school. Those who have dropped out of upper secondary education are known to have a heightened risk of marginalisation in the labour market, ending up as long-term recipients of income support.

“Prior research has shown that mental health and substance abuse problems are more common among those who have dropped out of upper secondary education, but according to our study, these problems also seem to precede dropping out,” notes Mikkonen.

The study has been published in the international, peer-reviewed Journal of Pediatrics, available at


Further information:

Janne Mikkonen

+358 50 416 0624