Supporting the Mental Health of Children with Chronic Illness
Updated: Feb 7
Chronic illnesses are a prevalent problem in today’s society and not just for adults. In The United States, an estimated 40% of school-aged children are suffering from a chronic health issue. A few of the most common chronic illnesses that affect them include asthma, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, diabetes, and developmental disabilities. Unfortunately, dealing with these health conditions from a young age can take a toll on their mental health. Kids aren’t able to fully process their emotions yet, so having to deal with an illness on top of that can be extremely distressing for them. For parents, it is important to help them understand what they are going through and find a healthy way to cope with their problems. This can be the key to preventing lasting trauma and stress. If you have a child with a chronic illness, here is what you can do to support their mental health:
Create a safe space
Children growing up with a chronic illness might have feel insecure in their respective places. They might feel like an ‘other’ in school or at home, since not everyone shares the same concerns they have. This can lead them to feel vulnerable and different, even though there is nothing inherently wrong with being sick. Many child life specialists advocate establishing safe environments for young patients, as children can have difficulty in fully comprehending medical conditions and treatments — which makes it harder for them to express their emotions. Child life specialists emphasize that creating safe, comfortable spaces can help mitigate the risk of psychosocial trauma in children, because a safe environment can make kids feel less like an outsider as their needs are integrated seamlessly into their surroundings.This can come in the form of making things more accessible to them such as installing a ramp for those who are wheelchair-bound, or always having an inhaler on-hand for those with asthma. Having a chronic illness makes life harder, so making small changes that cater to their care strategy can go a long way to boosting your child's confidence and alleviating their stress. Be sure to closely work with their school and your physician to ensure that their quality of life remains good.
Facilitate Counseling Sessions
As mentioned earlier, kids may not be able to fully comprehend their diagnosis, much less the overwhelming feelings that come with it. It can lead to them developing mental illnesses brought on by the stress of their condition. This is backed up by studies finding a relationship between chronic illness and depression. The severity of their condition can have a positive correlation to their mental wellbeing. Those with depression are also more prone to committing suicide, so being proactive with your child’s mental health can be the key to seeing them grow up to be happy adults. Setting up sessions with a mental health professional such as a therapist or psychologist will help them properly process what they are feeling. They will be able to better understand and express their emotions rather than being confused by them. This can prevent them from developing mental health conditions like depression or anxiety, and treat them if they are already pre-existing. Finding support in this way can help your child cope, especially during periods of difficulty.
It is important for a child to feel valued even if they are dealing with a chronic illness. Giving them encouragement, positive reinforcement, and assurance that they are not a burden can also do wonders in making them feel good about themselves. This can boost their self-esteem and constantly remind them that they are here for a reason. As a parent, you should tell them that while their illness is a part of them, it is not who they are. Encouraging them to take charge and become their own person will lead them to growing up happier and more well-adjusted in the long run.
Article written by Rosette Johns exclusively for: