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Child Care Health Dev. 2019 Apr 14. doi: 10.1111/cch.12667. [Epub ahead of print]

Chronicity of mental comorbidity in children with new-onset physical illness.

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School of Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.



Evidence suggests that physical and mental illnesses are strongly correlated in children. This study examined patterns of the chronicity of multimorbidity (co-occurring physical and mental illness); estimated homotypic continuity; and modelled factors associated with chronicity in children newly diagnosed with a chronic physical illness.


Children aged 6-16 years diagnosed with one of asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, food allergy, or juvenile arthritis were recruited from two children's hospitals and followed for 6 months. Child mental illness was measured using the parent-reported Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview and Ontario Child Health Study Emotional Behavioural Scales at baseline and 6 months later. Children were stratified into three groups: no multimorbidity, acute (multimorbidity at only one assessment), and persistent (multimorbidity at both assessments).


Forty-nine children were available for analysis: no multimorbidity (n = 18), acute (n = 13), and persistent (n = 18). Homotypic continuity was highest for conduct disorder (67.5%) and lowest for major depression (16.7%). Unadjusted analyses showed positive associations between child and parent behavioural symptoms, as well as family functioning with persistent multimorbidity. These associations remained after adjustment, ranging from odds ratio (OR) = 1.29 [1.01, 1.64] for depression to OR = 1.61 [1.11, 2.33] and OR = 1.61 [1.10, 2.35] for attention-deficit hyperactivity and oppositional defiant, respectively, in child models. In parent models, associations remained for parental anxiety (OR = 1.18 [1.04, 1.34]) and stress (OR = 1.15 [1.02, 1.31]).


Multimorbidity is persistent in children newly diagnosed with physical illnesses, regardless of the mental comorbidity experienced. Integrating family-centred mental health services soon after the diagnosis of a physical illness should be prioritized in pediatric settings.


adolescent; chronic disease; mental disorder; multimorbidity; prospective cohort


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