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The transition to adulthood as a critical juncture in the course of psychopathology and mental health



Few students of psychopathology and mental health would argue that the period between adolescence and adulthood is simply a passive medium through which individuals pass untouched, a segment of the life span that has no unique impact on ongoing trajectories of functioning and adjustment. Yet the relative lack of attention given to this period in theoretical conceptualizations and empirical investigations suggests an assumption that the events and experiences constituting the transition to adulthood are relatively inconsequential to the course of psychopathology and mental health. In comparison, far more attention has been given to childhood effects on adult psychopathology. Early experiences may be critical, and deserve all the attention they are given; however, their influences on later psychopathology and mental health are likely mediated and sometimes reversed by later experiences (Cicchetti & Tucker, 1994; Curtis & Cicchetti, 2003; Sroufe, 1997; Sroufe, Carlson, Levy, & Egeland, 1999; Sroufe, Egeland, & Kreutzer, 1990). There is a clear need to devote equal attention to more developmentally proximal influences (Cairns, 2000; Lewis, 1999; Schulenberg, Maggs, & O'Malley, 2003). This is especially true from a systems perspective, where development is viewed as a function of strong person–context interactions with a temporal course given to fits and starts that correspond, at least in part, to shifts in the individual, the context, and the interaction between the two (Cicchetti & Rogosch, 2002; Sameroff, 2000). More specifically, developmental transitions, representing major life changes within individuals and in social roles and contexts, can contribute to alterations in the course of mental health and psychopathology.John Schulenberg's work on this Special Issue was supported, in part, by grants from the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH, MH59396) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA, DA01411), Arnold Sameroff's work was supported by a grant from NIMH (MH59396), and Dante Cicchetti's work was supported by grants from NIDA (DA12903) and the Spunk Fund, Inc. This Special Issue is based, in part, on the Michigan Symposium on Development and Psychopathology: Continuity and Discontinuity during the Transition to Adulthood, held at the University of Michigan in June 2002, chaired by John Schulenberg and Arnold Sameroff, and sponsored by the NIMH-funded Center for Development and Mental Health, the Institute for Social Research, Office of the Vice President for Research, and Center for Human Growth and Development.

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Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: John Schulenberg, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1248.


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