Background. Mental disorders often begin during the formative years of educ
ation. They may disrupt education and lead to social underachievement.
Methods. We examined the impact of mental disorders treated in hospital (ag
es 16-29) on educational attainment up to 31 years in the Northern Finland
1966 Birth Cohort (N = 10581). People discharged due to mental illness were
grouped by DSM-III-R diagnoses (of schizophrenia, other psychoses and non-
psychotic disorders) and were compared with those having no such hospital t
reatment. Associations between diagnoses and educational outcome (completio
n of basic level, upper secondary or tertiary education) were analysed stra
tified by age at onset (early onset < 22 years v. later), and adjusted for
confounding by perinatal risk, early motor development, maternal education,
family structure, parental social class, and school achievement using pros
pective data from earlier assessments and logistic regression analysis.
Results. Twelve per cent of the comparison group completed basic level educ
ation, 62 % upper secondary, and 26 % tertiary education. People with early
onset disorder tended to stagnate in the basic level. Early onset schizoph
renia and all non-psychotic cases had 3- to 6-fold adjusted odds for this o
utcome. Many with early onset schizophrenia completed secondary education,
but none completed the tertiary level. Hospitalization for non-psychotic di
sorder increased the risk of underachievement in tertiary education for tho
se with early onset.
Conclusions, Mental disorder treated in hospital truncates education. Failu
re to complete higher education may contribute to the "social exclusion" of
the mentally ill through reduced opportunities in later occupational life
and failure to accumulate social capital.