Study Shows Adults With Cerebral Palsy Face Higher Risk of Depression

3 min read

A recent study conducted in the UK revealed the link between cerebral palsy and mental health, finding that adults with CP have a higher risk of depression and anxiety than those without the condition. The study results emphasize the importance of mental health care for both kids and adults with cerebral palsy.

Studying Cerebral Palsy and Mental Health Issues

UK researchers investigated the mental health of people with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy (CP) is a lifelong disability that causes mobility problems and cognitive difficulties. Evidence shows that people with long-term disabilities have an increased risk of depression and anxiety, but little research has examined the mental health of people with CP.

People with CP have many known mental illness risk factors, including:

  • Pain
  • Functional limitations
  • Long-term disease/disability
  • Social relationship difficulties
  • Poor sleep
  • Experiencing multiple conditions at once

Researchers collected medical data on 1,705 adults with CP and another 5,115 without CP. The researchers compared people of similar age, sex and socioeconomic status, measuring cases of depression and anxiety throughout their lives. They also investigated whether CP-related intellectual difficulties contributed to the risk of depression or anxiety.

The results showed that people with CP have a 28 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with depression and a 40 percent higher risk of anxiety than people without CP.

Researchers don’t have a scientific explanation for exactly why they found this. We need more research to determine the specific factors that put people with CP at higher risk of these mental disorders.

Mental Health in Adults With Cerebral Palsy Starts in Childhood

Parents, doctors and therapists may overlook the mental health care needs of children with CP because they view the disorder as a physical condition. The current study points to the lack of understanding about the link between mental health and cerebral palsy.

Teens with disabilities tend to report good self-esteem and strong family connections. However, research shows that they have fewer close friend relationships and also participate in fewer activities. Young people with family stressors or poor family relationships have the highest risk of depression.

The symptoms of cerebral palsy can make it more difficult for young adults to cope with common life challenges, such as transitioning to independent living, getting a job and forming social relationships. As a result, people with CP can experience immense stress and anxiety during these times of change.

Over time, children with untreated mental distress can go on to develop mental health issues. Depression seems to develop more quickly for teens with disabilities, and depressive symptoms often stick around into adulthood.

If we can recognize the risk factors for mental illness, we can come up with targeted intervention strategies for children with CP.

Supporting Mental Health in Children With Cerebral Palsy

Early intervention can help children with CP avoid mental illness in the future. Since youth are especially vulnerable to mental health problems, it’s crucial that parents and healthcare workers look out for the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

For example, parents can make sure their child feels included in school. People with disabilities often feel like they aren’t accepted—kids who cannot find the right social group may have a difficult time during their school years.

Bringing awareness to the mental health risks faced by people with CP can help families seek mental health care as soon as possible. Quick intervention can reduce the likelihood that children will develop a mental illness later in life.

Ways to Provide Mental Health Care for People With Cerebral Palsy

Parents, peers and care providers can promote better mental health in people with CP. Encourage kids to make strong social connections and participate in activities. Children may need to learn unique ways to do things, but they’ll get a powerful self-esteem boost when they realize their disability doesn’t limit them.

Also, it’s important for family members to be supportive. Parents can provide mobility assistance and adaptive equipment to improve a child’s independence and help them accomplish tasks on their own. Allow your child to participate in every aspect of life to keep them from feeling trapped or held back.

Managing the symptoms of cerebral palsy, like pain, stiff muscles and speech problems can also help kids find greater independence and confidence. Ensure your child gets the right treatments and therapy to improve their quality of life. Don’t forget the importance of mental health screening and mental health care as part of your child’s treatment plan.

Prioritizing mental health care is just as important as treating your child’s physical health needs.

The current study linking shows that we need better psychological care for both children and adults with CP. Depression and anxiety can be just as debilitating as physical health conditions. Hopefully, research like this will encourage further exploration into the connections between cerebral palsy and mental health so we can develop effective interventions.

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View Sources
  1. “Risk of Depression and Anxiety in Adults With Cerebral Palsy” JAMA Neurology. Retrieved from Accessed on February 21, 2019.
  2. “Risk of developing depression and anxiety is higher in those with cerebral palsy” ScienceDaily. Retrieved from Accessed on February 21, 2019.
  3. “Cerebral Palsy and Mental Health” McMaster University. Retrieved from Accessed on February 22, 2019.