Children with Cerebral Palsy May be More Likely to Suffer from Mental Health Disorders

A study conducted by the University of Michigan and published in the journal Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology has concluded that children with cerebral palsy (CP) are more likely to suffer from mental health disorders than children without it. The study examined the health data of over 30,000 children aged 6 to 17, 111 of whom had CP, as well as a variety of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder, behavioural/conduct issues and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Much is known about higher rates of mental health issues in adults with CP, attributed to the physical and social limitations of the disorder, but little information is available about whether a similar correlation manifests in children.

Adjusting for factors such as sex, age, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, the study found that overall, children with CP were nearly four times as likely to suffer from mental health disorders than their peers without CP.

Physical Risk Factors and Mental Health Disorders in Children with CP

Certain physical risk factors were a contributor to mental health disorders in children regardless of their CP status, such as lack of sleep, lack of physical activity and chronic pain. When these factors were accounted for, the rate of depression was not noticeably different among the two groups.

It is important to note that this study did find considerable differences in the percentage of children afflicted with these physical risk factors among the two groups. Children with CP reported dealing with chronic pain at a rate of 39%, while just 7.6% of the control group reported the same. We have previously written about chronic pain in CP patients, and the significant effect that it can have on their lives.

Further, the study found that 64.9% of children without CP reported getting the appropriate amount of sleep each night for their age, only 54.6% of CP patients could say the same. These differences suggest that while depression may not be directly linked to CP, one or more of the physical risk factors common among children with CP make them more susceptible to depression.

Finally, the researchers found that even after taking the physical risk factors described above into account, children with CP reported significantly higher rates of anxiety and/or behaviour and conduct issues. The researchers concluded that further study is needed to test the effects of improving physical health and lowering pain levels on the mental health status of cerebral palsy patients.

The Importance of Mental Health Care for Children and Young People with CP

Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton have also been examining mental health issues in young people with CP, and emphasize the importance of proper mental health care as part of the management of the disorder. They stress that while aspects of CP such as the physical risk factors described above can increase the likelihood of mental health issues, the presence of mental health disorders can, in turn, worsen the physical aspects of CP:

Mental health issues can disrupt sleep schedules, affect appetite, impact energy levels and disrupt cognitive processes and planning abilities.  They can also affect motivation and make an individual less likely to engage in healthy habits, make an effort to engage socially, or take care of oneself.  All of these things can aggravate or worsen any pre-existing physical health problems.

Early intervention is extremely important when addressing mental health disorders, and so doctors should be alert to these issues in their patients from a young age, so that help can be obtained right away.

How a Medical Malpractice Lawyer Can Help

A very common misconception held by parents of children with CP is that the disorder is inevitable or genetic. In fact, in a very large proportion of cases, CP is caused by a specific brain injury, which often takes place during birth.

If you had complications during your pregnancy, labour and delivery, or birth, and your child suffered a brain injury such as cerebral palsy, you may have legal recourse.

For more than 40 years, the skilled and experienced medical malpractice lawyers at Sommers Roth & Elmaleh have been helping patients and families affected by birth injuries. We have a particular focus on helping children and families affected by cerebral palsy.

Over the years, we have set ground-breaking legal precedents and have obtained significant compensation for many children (and adults) with cerebral palsy. We have been at the forefront of developments in medical malpractice litigation and are consistently recognized by members of both the legal and medical community as being among the top medical malpractice lawyers in the country. Call us at 1-416-961-1212 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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