The Effect of Chronic Illness on the Mental Health of a Child

Usually when we hear the word ‘illness’, we picture someone a bit older, who might be retired, and is struggling with a weakening body because of the effects of age. However, we often forget that children, who are young and full of life and energy, can suffer from an illness too. We also often forget the effect that chronic illnesses have on adults and their mental health, needless to say we also forget to think of the effect chronic illness will have on a child’s mental health.

Did you know that 1 in 5 children live with a chronic illness? Living with a chronic illness affects normal activities, may limit the child’s ability to function, or result in needing help from others or long periods of hospitalisation. The odds of developing anxiety as an adult is 1.47 times higher for children with chronic illness, and the odds of suffering from depression as an adult is 1.31 times higher. Considering this, here are a few ways to help our children cope with their illnesses: Clarify any restrictions from the doctor, and explain them to your child; Empathise with these struggles e.g. “It IS tough taking these medications every day!” or “I don’t blame YOU for being angry/sad etc”. We can also give them safe outlets to express their feelings appropriately e.g. a special time each day to talk/write in a journal etc. You can also reward your child for taking their medication each day or for taking age-appropriate responsibility. The most important way we can help our children, however, is simply through being loving and supportive, trying to understand what our child are going through, and staying positive and strong for them.

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