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The dangers of moving as a child
Posted in Blog, Research, Treatment

Moving as an adult is stressful. Moving as a child or an adolescent can be world-changing. New schools, new friends and new environments can all result in quite the psychological blow, especially when compounded with puberty and other adolescent struggles.

But how bad is it really? A research team asked this question and published the results in The American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

The study

The study was led by Roger Webb, a researcher at the University of Manchester in Manchester, England. Webb and colleagues used an enormous database that contained records of every person born in Denmark between the years 1971 and 1997 to determine whether or not moving during childhood influenced outcomes later in life. Negative outcomes included suicide attempts, criminality, psychiatric disorders, drug abuse and unnatural mortality.

From their analyses, the researchers found that moving during childhood was linked to all of these negative outcomes. Children who moved multiple times during a single year were at the greatest risk, as well as children who moved between the ages of 12 and 14. Specifically, children who moved at age 14 had double the risk of suicide by middle age as well as double the risk of engaging in violent crime or abusing drugs.

These startling patterns remained even after the researchers controlled for parents’ income and psychiatric history.

“Childhood residential mobility is associated with multiple long-term adverse outcomes,” warn the researchers. “Health and social services, schools, and other public agencies should be vigilant of the psychological needs of relocated adolescents, including those from affluent as well as deprived families.”

What makes moving so dangerous?

From these results, it seems clear that moving can have a significant effect on children and adolescents. Why?

The researchers note that frequent moves may be associated with a more chaotic family life. For instance, parents may need to move from house to house because they have difficulty holding down a job, because a family member has died or due to a divorce. It’s also possible that the social upheaval associated with moving places enormous stress on children who are still discovering their identities.

Chances are, however, that not all moves are dangerous. Moving to a house in a safer neighborhood may have a net positive effect, as well as moving away from an abusive spouse. Future research will need to determine how different “types” of moves influence a child’s wellbeing.

In the meantime, parents and clinicians should watch over children and adolescents to make sure they’re successfully coping with a move. By identifying and treating mental health issues early, it may be possible to prevent serious problems later on.

Sovereign Health Group of Texas is a residential behavioral health treatment provider that offers high-quality and comprehensive care for individuals struggling with mental illnesses, substance addiction and co-occurring conditions.  We treat our patients like people – not diagnoses. For this reason, each of our patients receives an individualized treatment plan based on his or her unique needs. For more information, contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Courtney Lopresti, M.S., is a senior staff writer for Sovereign Health, where she uses her scientific background to write online blogs and articles for a general audience. At the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her master’s in neuroscience, she used functional neuroimaging to study how the human cerebellum contributes to language processing. In her spare time, she writes fiction, reads Oliver Sacks and spends time with her two cats and bird. Courtney is currently located in Minneapolis. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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