January 30, 2018
2 min read

Mental health concerns often accompany pediatric chronic conditions

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Children who have a chronic physical illness such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, food allergy or juvenile arthritis are likely to experience a mental disorder, with 58% of children experiencing both physical and psychological conditions at time of diagnosis.

Furthermore, children with multimorbidities were more likely to have a significant decline in their quality of life after a follow-up conducted at 6 months

“These findings show that risk for mental disorder is relatively the same among children with different physical conditions,” Mark Ferro, CREDS, a professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo and Canada Research Chair in Youth Mental Health, said in a press release. “Regardless of their condition, children with physical and mental health problems experience a significant decline in their quality of life within the first 6 months after receiving their diagnosis, indicating a need for mental health services early on.”

To assess multimorbidity of chronic physical health conditions and mental disorders in children and the conditions’ effect on quality of life for children and parents and identify sociodemographic factors associated with outcomes 6 months after diagnosis, the researchers conducted a prospective pilot study that included two children’s tertiary care hospitals.

Children aged between 6 and 16 years were included if they were diagnosed in the past 6 months with either asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, food allergy or juvenile arthritis. Additionally, the parents of these children were also included. The researchers examined the presence of a mental disorder by using the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview at baseline. Both family functioning and parents’ and children’s quality of life — including parental stress, anxiety and depression — were described.

Of the 50 children included in the study, 58% experienced a multimorbidity when assessed at baseline. This number decreased to 42% at a 6-month follow-up. Sociodemographic traits were not connected to the risk of multimorbidity.

When children experienced multimorbidity at baseline assessment, their quality of life decreased at follow-up, including specific drops in physical well-being (beta = –4.82 [–8.47, –1.17]), psychological well-being (beta = –4.10 [–7.62, –0.58]) and school environment (beta = –4.17 [–8.18, –0.16]). Ferro and colleagues did not observe a connection between children’s multimorbidities and parental psychosocial outcomes over time. 

“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,” Alexandra Butler, a graduate student at the University of Waterloo, said in the release. “It is important to not only identify at-risk children early but to also have resources to support them.” – by Katherine Bortz

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.