January 8, 2018

Children With Chronic Illness Often Show Signs of Mental Health Problems

WATERLOO, Ontario -- January 8, 2018 -- Children commonly show signs of a mental disorder soon after receiving a diagnosis involving a of a chronic physical condition, according to a recent study in BMJ Open.

Mark Ferro, MD, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, and colleagues surveyed children aged 6 to 16 years, all within a month of their diagnosis with asthma, food allergy, epilepsy, diabetes or juvenile arthritis. According to parents’ responses to a standardised interview, 58% of children screened positive for at least 1 mental disorder.

This is the first study 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 Dr. Ferro. “Regardless of their condition, children with a physical and mental health problems experience a significant decline in their quality life within the first 6 months after receiving their diagnosis, indicating a need for mental health services early on.”

Six months after diagnosis, the number of kids showing signs of a mental disorder dipped slightly to 42%. Anxiety disorders were most common, including separation anxiety, generalised 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 lead author Alexandra Butler, University of Waterloo. “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.

A subset of children self-reported on their own mental health. Results showed that although 58% of parents reported that their children presented signs of a mental health problem, only 18% of children self-reported it. This result speaks to the need for health professionals to get multiple perspectives when assessing children's mental health.

Reference: DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019011

SOURCE: University of Waterloo

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