Anxiety, Depression Tied to Teens' Physical Problems

European researchers have identified patterns in youth linking mental problems to physical disorders such as arthritis and skin diseases.

Psychologists at the University of Basel and Ruhr University Bochum determined that arthritis and diseases of the digestive system are more common in youth who have suffered from depression. Moreover, when youth experience anxiety issues, they tend to be followed by skin diseases.

Physical diseases and mental disorders affect a person’s quality of life and present a huge challenge for the healthcare system. If physical and mental disorders systematically co-occur from an early age, there is a risk that the sick child or adolescent will suffer from untoward developments.

Dr. Marion Tegethoff, in collaboration with Professor Gunther Meinlschmidt from the University of Basel’s Faculty of Psychology, led a team of researchers to examine the temporal pattern and relationship between physical diseases and mental disorders in children and young people.

The researchers analyzed data from a representative sample of 6,483 teenagers from the US aged between 13 and 18. They discovered that some physical diseases tend to occur more frequently in children and adolescents if they have previously suffered from certain mental disorders.

Likewise, certain mental disorders tend to occur more frequently after the onset of particular physical diseases.

Affective disorders such as depression were frequently followed by arthritis and diseases of the digestive system, while the same relationship existed between anxiety disorders and skin diseases. Anxiety disorders were more common if the person had already suffered from heart disease. A close association was also established for the first time between epileptic disorders and subsequent eating disorders.

The research findings have been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Researchers believe the results offer important insights into the causal relationship between mental disorders and physical diseases. The newly identified temporal associations draw attention to processes that could be relevant both to the origins of physical diseases and mental disorders and to their treatment.

In an earlier study, the same authors had already provided evidence for the relationship between mental disorders and physical diseases in young people. In this study investigators determined that epilepsy is followed by an increased risk of eating disorders — a phenomenon that had previously been described only in single case reports.

“This suggests that approaches to epilepsy treatment could also have potential in the context of eating disorders,” said Tegethoff, the study’s lead author.

From a health policy perspective, the findings underscore that the treatment of mental disorders and physical diseases should be closely interlinked from an early age on.

Source: University of Basel/EurekAlert