Children Suffer From Higher Rates of Mental Illness if They Have Chronic Illness, New Study Finds

Anahita Kodali, Medical Sciences, News, Spring 2020

Figure 1: Asthma is a common chronic condition in which airways get inflamed and produce extra mucus, making it difficult to breathe and cause chest pain and coughing. Symptoms range from mild to severe; in mild cases, people can live their daily lives without interference, but in severe cases, people need to be careful performing strenuous activities and always carry an inhaler with them.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mental illness has been a heavily studied topic over the past few decades.  In 2017, it was estimated that almost 1 in 5 Americans suffered from some form of mental illness 1. There has been plenty of research done on different demographics and their levels of mental illness: women suffer from mental illness more than men, young adults have more cases of mental illness compared to older adults, mixed race adults have the highest prevalence of mental illness1. One group especially susceptible to mental health concerns in the US are children under the age of 18. Recent studies estimate that as many as 1 in 6 have some mental health issue, with almost half of these children not receiving proper treatment for their disorder(s)2.

Children with chronic illness, thus fare, have been a relatively understudied in terms of the prevalence of mental illness.  This has been the focus of a team from Queen Mary University of London. The team sampled 7,000 children over the course of several years to investigate any association between mental illness and chronic illness. They found that at ages 10 and 13, children with some chronic illness were 2 times more likely to have a mental health issue than other children; at age 15, children with chronic illness were 60% more likely to present some signs of mental illness3.

The team wanted to see if any specific disorder would  be highly correlated with mental health issues. They chose to look into asthma, a relatively common disease (currently, about 8.4% of American children have some degree of asthama4). Despite the fact that there are many treatments available to control asthma, the researchers found that children aged 13 or 15 with asthma had higher levels of mental illness than children without it3.

The team then tried to determine the factors associated with higher levels of mental illness by looking at friendships, activity levels, familial environment, bullying, and amount of absentness from school. They found that bullying and amount of absentness were the two most significant factors3. Dr. Ann Marie Brady, study author and researcher at Queen Mary University of London, remarked that chronic illness impacts and disrupts children’s normal lives, which can lead to issues with mental well-being. This, coupled with bullying and missing school, can cause or worsen mental health in children5.

Hopefully with these findings in mind, physicians, therapists and counselors can develop better ways to care for children with chronic illness. Schools, specifically, will be able to play a more significant role in the mental health of their students by keeping a closer eye on medical-related absenteeism as well as levels of bullying.

 

Bibliography

[1] Mental Illness. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml

[2] Devitt, M. (2019, March 18). Study: One in Six U.S. Children Has a Mental Illness. American Association of Family Physicians. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20190318childmentalillness.html

[3] Ann Marie Brady. (2020). Chronic illness in childhood and early adolescence: A longitudinal exploration of co-occuring mental illness. Development and Psychopathology. DOI: 10.1017/S095457942000020

[4] AAFA. (June 2019). Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Retrieved from https://www.aafa.org/asthma-facts/

[5] Queen Mary University of London. (2020, May 4). Chronic illness in childhood linked to higher rates of mental illness. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 6, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200504114117.htm

 

 

 

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