Nerve-Related Birth Injury Tied to Greater Risk for Poor Mental Health in Teens

A new Swedish study finds that children with brachial plexus birth injury face a greater risk for developing mental health problems in their teens. Among children with this condition, females from low socio-economic groups have the highest risk for poor mental health.

Brachial plexus birth injury (BPBI) — also known as brachial plexus palsy (BPP) — is a condition in which the nerve fibers leading to an arm are damaged at birth. The degree of resulting impairments vary from barely noticeable to not being able to move an arm and hand.

Using national register data, researchers from Lund University in Sweden followed more than 600,000 children born to Swedish parents between the years 1987-1993. Of these, nearly 1,600 children had BPBI.

Their findings reveal that children with the physical birth injury had used medication in their teens for mental health issues to a greater extent than their peers. In addition, those from low-income families were more affected than children from families with higher socio-economic status. Females were more affected than males, and the problems became even more severe if the girls also came from families with low socio-economic status.

“Coming from a family with low socio-economic status is a high risk in itself,” says Elia Psouni, associate professor of developmental psychology at Lund University in Sweden. “If you are also a girl, the risk that you will suffer from poor mental health is more than twice as high than if you are a boy from a wealthy family.”

Why are girls more affected? “I think it has to do with trauma and discrimination on many levels. In my previous research, I have seen how the experiences and consequences of school-related stress are greater in girls than in boys,” says Psouni.

“As far as the children’s socio-economic background is concerned, there is already a lot of research showing that children from less fortunate families often receive less support. They often have poorer access to information and support from extended social networks and formal organizations.”

Psouni hopes that the new findings will lead to increased awareness of the issues surrounding BPBI, which will in turn help increase preparedness for and bring a greater focus to the mental well-being of these children well into their late teen years. She hopes that “children will continue to receive help, even after the physical injury has been treated, by a professional team working closely with the patient.”

The study appears in the journal PLOS ONE.

Source: Lund University