Chronic childhood illnesses such as epilepsy could increase the risk that a person will develop clinical depression as an adult, according to new research.
A team led by Dr. Darya Gaysina, a psychology lecturer at the University of Sussex in England, decided to see if there were associations between chronic illnesses in childhood and emotional problems in adulthood.
They reviewed 34 studies covering 45,358 people with eight diseases: arthritis, asthma, cancer, chronic renal failure, congenital heart disease, cystic fibrosis, type 1 diabetes, and epilepsy.
Four of the studies dealt with epilepsy’s effect on mental health. The four covered 528 patients who developed the disease in childhood and 440 healthy controls.
One report concluded that those with epilepsy had a higher prevalence of depression and anxiety than the controls. The other studies failed to found such an association, however.
In terms of all eight diseases, researchers found that those with a chronic illness in childhood had a 30 percent greater chance of developing clinical depression as an adult, and a 47 greater chance of developing anxiety.
Additional analysis showed a significant association between cancer in childhood and adult depression. Children who had cancer were at 19 greater risk of having depression later in life.
“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,” Gaysina said in a news release written by Amanda Oldt.
“It seems that if there is a higher risk of mental health issues in adulthood for those with childhood-onset chronic physical illnesses,” she said. “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.”