A recent study suggests that children diagnosed with mental disorders are more susceptible to developing ongoing physical disorders later in life. A diagnosis of depression or anxiety combined with instances of abuse or criminal activity in the home gives children a higher chance of developing diabetes, osteoarthritis, and heart disease in adulthood.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO) Mental Health Surveys program, analyzed data from a cross-sectional survey spanning 10 different countries. The survey sought to prove that a concrete relationship exists between mental disability and physical abuse leading to chronic physical conditions. Previous studies had failed to look at mental disability as a factor, which authors claim was an “important oversight.”
Kate M. Scott, an associate professor in the department of psychological medicine at the University of Otago, organized a team of interviewers to facilitate the survey’s two-part analysis. The first part looked for people who met the criteria of a mental disorder as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV™). The second part evaluated childhood adversities such as “physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, parental death, parental divorce, other parental loss, parental mental disorder, parental substance use, parental criminal behavior, family violence, and family economic adversity.” These two factors were then used to evaluate the onset of physical problems.
In the study, published in the August 2011 Archives of General Psychiatry, authors point out that this was the first time scientists have analyzed data looking at the relationship between early mental illness and physical factors.
“In prior research that has considered the influence of the early psychosocial environment on later physical health, mental disorders have generally been out of the frame of consideration…. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that childhood adversities and early-onset mental disorder have independent, broad-spectrum effects that increase the risk of diverse chronic physical conditions in later life.”
Pre-1990s data shows that physical illnesses such as asthma were the most common disabilities diagnosed in children. However, in a recent article in The Future of Children, published by the Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, authors Janet M. Currie and Robert Kahn found that in 2008-2009, asthma had fallen to sixth on the list. After speech problems, the most common diagnoses were learning disabilities, affecting 23 percent; ADHD, affecting 22 percent; “other mental, emotional or behavioral problems,” affecting 19 percent; and “other developmental problems,” affecting 10 percent.
If the shift in diagnoses of children from physical to mental disorders continues, are children now facing a two-part challenge? Are there preventive measures we can take now to help children avoid physical issues later? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
Editor’s note: This week, PAR is pleased to welcome guest blogger Grace Gardner. A recent graduate of the University of South Florida with a B.A. in Mass Communication, Grace is working as an editorial assistant this summer in the production department at PAR.