Psychological complications of chronic illness
I think the very simple message is, 'You can do it.' While it's devastating and difficult to learn of an illness, and there are a lot of emotions to deal with, from parents feeling guilty to kids feeling angry ... Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the better it will be.
Jennifer Rein, MSW, LICSW, Boston Children's Hospital social worker
Having a chronic illness—an illness that lasts for a significant period of time, and requires ongoing medical care—can be incredibly taxing for adults, and even more so for children.
A child or teen already dealing with the normal changes and stresses of growing up experiences further complications when facing a chronic illness like asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or diabetes.
Chronic medical disorders, and the treatments that go along with them, can:
- intensify a child’s concerns about her physical appearance
- interfere with her process of gaining independence
- disrupt her evolving relationships with parents and friends
- make it hard for her to manage her illness on a daily basis
At Children’s Hospital Boston, we understand that children (and families) who are confronting chronic physical illness, medical procedures and hospitalizations are often confused and anxious. Our experienced team of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other mental health professionals is here to complement your child’s medical care. We can help your child and family cope through:
- education about the psychological impact of chronic illness for the child, family and other medical caregivers
- psychotherapy (“talk therapy”) to identify, understand and balance the emotional toll of a chronic illness
- if necessary, antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication in conjunction with talk therapy
|Helping your child with medical experiences|
Read our practical guide for parents (.pdf file).
How Boston Children's Hospital approaches psychological complications of chronic illness
Children’s Hospital Boston has long been at the forefront of providing expert and compassionate medical, mental and behavioral health care for children and adolescents. Our Department of Psychiatry team members are leaders in researching, diagnosing and treating the full spectrum of mental health conditions that affect kids and families, including:
- anxiety disorders
- bipolar disorder
- eating disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
The Department offers special expertise in helping children and families cope with the emotional toll of a chronic medical condition. Our initiatives in this vital area include:
Our Behavioral Medicine Clinic works with children who are being treated on an outpatient basis at the hospital—as well as their families—so they can understand and manage their feelings about:
- being sick
- facing uncomfortable procedures
- handling pain
- taking medication
- preparing for surgery
- changes in friendships and family relationships
- managing school while dealing with an illness
grief and loss
Our Psychiatry Consultation Service is comprised of expert and compassionate mental health professionals who understand the unique circumstances of hospitalized children and their families. The team provides several services for children who have been admitted to the hospital, including:
- short-term therapy for children admitted to one of our inpatient units
- parent and sibling consultations
- teaching healthy coping skills for the whole family
- educating members of the medical treatment team about the relationship between physical illness and psychological distress
Children’s psychiatrist-in-chief David DeMaso, MD, and his colleagues have developed the Experience Journal, an online collection of stories, drawings and words of wisdom from children, parents and caregivers affected by chronic illness.
- To help teenagers take a more proactive role in their treatment and to have their needs recognized, Children’s has developed the Teen Advisory Committee. The group—comprised of current Children’s patients, ages 14 to 21—serves as a team of peers who can listen to other patients’ needs, ensure their voices are heard and advocate for change.
|Transitioning from pediatric to adult care|
More than 9 million children in the United States are living with a chronic illness. Every year, 500,000 of these children turn 18. As they join their fellow adolescents in struggling to achieve optimal independence, they also face a serious issue they may not be prepared for: the transition of their medical care. Read Children’s tips for helping kids – and their families – make this key transition.
Psychological complications of chronic illness: Reviewed by David R. DeMaso, MD
© Children’s Hospital Boston; posted in 2011