Kids with Chronic Medical Illness at High Risk of Mental Disorders

A recent study finds that children commonly show signs of a mental disorder soon after receiving a diagnosis of a chronic physical condition.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo surveyed children between the ages of six and 16, and all within a month of their diagnosis with asthma, food allergy, epilepsy, diabetes, or juvenile arthritis.

According to parents’ responses to a standardized interview, 58 percent of children screened positive for at least one mental disorder.

The study, which appears in BMJ Open, is the first of its kind to recruit children with different conditions, and so soon after diagnosis.

“These findings show that risk for mental disorder is relatively the same among children with different physical conditions,” said Mark Ferro, a professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at Waterloo and Canada Research Chair in Youth Mental Health.

“Regardless of their condition, children with a physical and mental health problems experience a significant decline in their quality life within the first six months after receiving their diagnosis, indicating a need for mental health services early on.”

Investigators found that six months after diagnosis, the number of kids showing signs of a mental disorder dipped slightly to 42 percent. Anxiety disorders were most common, including separation anxiety, generalized anxiety, and phobias.

“It is possible that the number is higher very early because there is some uncertainty surrounding the prognosis, or unanswered questions about management and treatment,” said Alexandra Butler, a graduate student at Waterloo and lead author of the paper.

“It is important to not only identify at-risk children early but to also have resources to support them.”

The researchers found that age and gender had no impact on the results.

Moreover, the unique study design also assessed the perceptions of the child as a subset of kids self-reported on their own mental health.

Notably, children were generally unaware of their mental health issue as 58 percent of parents reported that their children presented signs of a mental health problem, while only 18 percent of kids reported it.

Researchers believe this finding shows the need for health professionals to get multiple perspectives when assessing children’s mental health.

Source: University of Waterloo/EurekAlert