For the first time Swiss and German scientists have mapped out which physical disorders are linked to which mental disorders in teenagers – with arthritis and stomach problems being more common after depression and anxiety leading to skin diseases.
The project, financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), and carried out by psychologists from the University of Basel and Ruhr University Bochum, examined the temporal pattern and relationship between physical diseases and mental disorders in children and young people. It was based on data from 6,483 teenagers from the United States, aged between 13 and 18.
The results, published on Thursday in the journal PLOS One, found that affective disorders such as depression were frequently followed by arthritis and diseases of the digestive system, while the same relationship existed between anxiety disorders and skin diseases. Anxiety disorders also were more common if the person had already suffered from heart disease.
Epilepsy and eating disorders
A close association was also established for the first time between epileptic disorders and subsequent eating disorders.
The team had already provided evidence for the relationship between mental disorders and physical diseases in young people last year. But this is the first time they could map the link along a time frame, to show which disorders came first.
The results offer important insights into the causal relationship between mental disorders and physical diseases, a statement from the University of Basel said.
The newly identified temporal associations draw attention to processes that could be relevant both to the origins of physical diseases and mental disorders and to their treatment, it added.
“For the first time, we have established that epilepsy is followed by an increased risk of eating disorders – a phenomenon that had previously been described only in single case reports. This suggests that approaches to epilepsy treatment could also have potential in the context of eating disorders,” explained Marion Tegethoff, from the University of Basel’s Faculty of Psychology and the study’s lead author.
From a health policy perspective, the findings highlight that the treatment of mental disorders and physical diseases should be closely interlinked from an early age, the statement concluded.
Up to 7% of young people are estimated to have depression in Switzerland.