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KANSAS CITY, Mo — A new study suggests that kids who move frequently to a new home are at higher risk of mental illness, substance abuse and even premature death as adults. A local psychologist says it isn’t so much moving, but why they’re moving, that impacts their health.

Maurice Johnson and his kids, Brandon and Tia, sing in great harmony, but their lives have lacked it in another way. The 12 and 13-year-olds have moved 16 times in five different states.

“You gotta leave your friends, gotta find new friends, gotta leave your teachers and stuff — like the ones that you like,” said Tia.

A new study looked at more than a million people and found the more moves children make, the more likely they are to have mental illness, substance abuse or violent behavior and early death as adults. It was true regardless of income.

A psychologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital emphasizes that the study showed only an association, not that moves actually cause those problems. She says what matters more is why a child is moving.

“Whether there was a significant series of events that created a lot of trauma or stressors on the child and the family,” said Dr. Rochelle Harris.

Johnson said he had a disabling heart attack, followed by the loss of income and the break-up of his marriage.

“You’d rather leave and go somewhere you know you’re gonna have a roof over your head rather that being with your children in a car,” the father said.

Now, with the help of reStart in Kansas City, the family has a home, and the kids have received counseling.

“It helps like get the stress out,” said Tia.

“I thank God for reStart. It has been a blessing to us,” said Johnson.

He said it helps, too, that the kids have been in the same schools for three years now, and their involvement in music is giving them a positive path in life.

Dr. Harris said getting kids involved in extracurricular activities is one way to help them after a move. She also suggested timing the move, whenever possible, so it’s not during the school year.

The study is in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.