Children suffering from chronic physical illness may be at increased risk of having depression and anxiety in adulthood, suggests new research. “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,” said senior researcher on the project Darya Gaysina from the University of Sussex in Britain. For the study, the researchers systematically reviewed evidence 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 by the sufferers in later life.
The paper, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (JCPP), revealed that the sufferers of all chronic conditions reviewed were at increased risk of developing depression or anxiety, emotional problems that persisted beyond childhood and adolescence and into adult life.
“In particular, we found that cancer was significantly associated with adult depression. 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 said. The results suggest that mental health prevention and intervention strategies which specifically target chronic illness sufferers in youth could be vital in treating mental health issues before they develop into more serious long term conditions.
“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,” Gaysina said.