Cognitive behavioral therapy could benefit mental health of children with long-term conditions

The mental health of children and young people with some long-term physical conditions could benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), according to a new study published in the journal Health Technology Assessment.

The first of two systemic reviews looked at 13 electronic databases, pulling randomized controlled trials and economic evaluations of interventions to improve elevated symptoms of poor mental health in children and young people with long-term health conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, chronic pain, and epilepsy. Effect sizes for each outcome were calculated post-intervention. When appropriate, random-effects meta-analyses produced pooled effect sizes, according to the study abstract.

For the second review, researchers located primary qualitative studies exploring experiences of children and young people with long-term health conditions, their families, and practitioners, regarding interventions aiming to improve mental health and wellbeing. These interventions include CBT, a short-term therapy technique that can help people find new ways to behave by changing their thought patterns.

Long-term conditions are common in children. In England, where the study took place, 23 percent of school-age children reported that they had a long-term medical illness or disability in a recent survey. Children and young people who have long term conditions are four times more likely to experience feelings of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues than those who are physically healthy, according to the study abstract.

The team identified some evidence of the benefits of CBT in inflammatory bowel disease, chronic pain, and epilepsy. The team also found some benefit from parenting programs to reduce behavioral problems in children with acquired brain injury or cerebral palsy.

Further studies showed that children and young people valued treatments that considered a range of needs, rather than just focusing on their mental health. The opportunity to meet and build a supportive relationship with people who are managing their long-term condition was also seen to help some young people by providing them with a sense of hope for the future and learn skills to manage their physical and mental health.