For their study, researchers at the University of Sussex and University College London reviewed data from a large number of medical studies, looking for associations between eight chronic physical illnesses in childhood, such as arthritis, asthma, and cancer, and emotional problems experienced later in life.
The researchers found that the sufferers of all chronic conditions reviewed were at an increased risk of developing depression or anxiety, emotional problems that persisted beyond childhood and adolescence and into adult life.
The findings suggest that mental health prevention and intervention strategies that specifically target children with chronic illnesses could be vital in treating mental health issues before they develop into more serious long term conditions, according to the researchers.
“Very little is known about lifelong effects of childhood chronic physical illness on mental health,” said psychologist Dr. Darya Gaysina, senior researcher on the project at the University of Sussex. “Our results show that childhood chronic physical illness was significantly associated with adult depression in the total sample of more than 45,000 participants we studied.”
“In particular, we found that cancer was significantly associated with adult depression,” she said. “Although the research on other chronic conditions is very limited, when we removed cancer from the sample, the link was still there. So it is not only cancer that’s associated with adult emotional problems.”
Gaysina noted this connection could help mental health practitioners approach young patients with chronic conditions in a different way.
“It seems that if there is a higher risk of mental health issues in adulthood for those with childhood-onset chronic physical illnesses, further in-depth research in this area could help change the way practitioners work with youth with chronic conditions, ensuring that there is as much a focus on the patient’s mental health as their physical health,” she said.
The study was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Source: University of Sussex
Photo: Dr. Darya Gaysina is the author of: ‘Research Review: Childhood chronic physical illness and adult emotional health – a systematic review and meta-analysis’ in the Journal Of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Credit: University of Sussex.