An analysis of data from a national representative cohort of 6,482 U.S. teenagers aged 13 to 18 suggests that every third teenager has suffered from one mental disorder and one physical disease — and these co-occurrences come in specific associations or combinations.
Researchers found that depression occurs together with diseases of the digestive system, eating disorders with seizures and anxiety disorders together with arthritis, heart disease as well as diseases of the digestives system.
These findings were reported by researchers from the University of Basel and the Ruhr-Universität Bochum and published in the scientific journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
According to the World Health Organization, chronic physical disease and mental disorders are challenging health care systems around the world. Previous adult studies suggest that physical disease and mental disorders not only randomly but also systematically co-occur.
In the new study, a research team led by University of Basel’s Dr. Marion Tegethoff analyzed how often and in what manner these associations already occur in children and adolescents. The study is part of a research project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.
The researchers found that more than one-third (35 percent) of children and adolescents reported at least one mental disorder and one chronic physical disease. The strongest correlation was found between affective disorders (e.g. depression) and diseases of the digestive system.
Adolescents with anxiety disorders were also found to have an above-average number of issues pertaining to arthritis, heart disease, and diseases of the digestive system. Similar correlations occurred between eating disorders and seizures (epilepsy).
In the study, researchers determined that factors such as age, gender, or socioeconomic status of the adolescents did not account for these associations.
However, due to the cross-sectional design of the study, the results do not show if and how mental disorders and physical disease are also connected in a cause and effect manner.
“Future studies should identify risk factors as well as the biological and psychological mechanisms responsible for these associations, in order to develop interdisciplinary approaches,” said Tegethoff.
An interdisciplinary approach would take into account both the physical disease as well as the mental disorder. The approach would lead to better health care for children and adolescents and would prevent unfavorable long-term effects for individuals as well as for the health care system in general, explain the authors.
Source: University of Basel/EurekAlert!