In a recent article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development, researchers examined the longitudinal association between mental health symptoms and prosocial behavior, i.e., behaviors intended to benefit others, such as sharing, showing empathy, and donating. They also explored the effects of parent-child relationships from early childhood to late adolescence (i.e., in formative years) on this association.
Epidemiological studies have shown that internalizing and externalizing mental health problems arise early during the lifespan or in the formative early years. These encompass emotional/affective (anxiety) and behavioral (e.g., hyperactivity) mental health symptoms.
However, there is a lack of studies connecting mental health symptoms and prosociality accounting for the impact of the quality of parent-child relationships through all developmental periods from early childhood to late adolescence, i.e., ages five (early childhood), seven (middle childhood), 11 (early adolescence), 14 (middle adolescence), and 17 (late adolescence).
Preliminary empirical evidence suggested a directional relationship between mental health symptoms and prosociality, e.g., higher prosociality predicts lower mental health symptoms (negative predictor).
Conversely, another study found that depression predicted lower prosociality and early prosociality predicted lower externalizing problems. Given these inconsistent findings, it is highly likely that this relationship is more complex.