This is how teenage depression and anxiety could affect your body
Depression is linked to your stomach, and anxiety is followed by bad skin.
Research over the past decade has definitively shown that mental disorders such as depression aren't just in our heads - they affect our entire bodies.
And now, for the first time, scientists have mapped out which physical disorders are linked to which mental disorders in teenagers - and the results suggest that depression, anxiety, and eating disorders all leave their own physical signature marks on the body.
A new study has found that digestive system diseases and arthritis are more common after depression, and teenagers who've suffered from anxiety are more likely to go on to have skin disorders.
Now, let's be clear - this study only shows a correlation between these disorders, and no one is saying for sure that these mental disorders cause these physical issues.
But the researchers have found a link between them, which is enough to suggest that there's some kind of relationship here that's worth investigating - particularly since one in five young people in the US experience mental health issues.
To figure this out, a team from the University of Basel in Switzerland and Ruhr University Bochum in Germany looked at data on 6,483 teenagers aged between 13 and 18 in the US.
After adjusting for factors such as lifestyle and sociodemographic variables, they were able to show:
Teenagers who suffered from depression were more likely to go on to experience digestive problems and arthritis
anxiety was commonly followed by skin diseases
anxiety was more common if a teenager had already suffered from heart disease
eating disorders were more common in teens that had already experienced epilepsy.
You can see which mental health disorders predict which physical disorders below:
The same team had already shown last year that there was a correlation between certain physical disorders and mental illnesses, but this is the first time they've been able to map that link along a time frame - in other words, they were able to show which disorders came first.
A better understanding of these relationships could help researchers to better treat teenagers in the future, and also predict their risk factor of going on to develop other conditions. And it provides insight into what could be causing the links between the disorders.
"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," said lead researcher Marion Tegethoff from the University of Basel.
"This suggests that approaches to epilepsy treatment could also have potential in the context of eating disorders."
Despite the large sample size, there were limitations to the study that will need to be ironed out with further research.
Mainly that the adolescents' mental health was assessed based on a questionnaire given by interviewers, as well as information provided by the teens and their parents - not official diagnosis.
But the study paves the way for further research into mental health issues and our physical health, and is a timely reminder that our mental health is closely linked to the rest of our bodies. It's time to think about how the two interact.
The research has been published in PLOS ONE here.
25 NOV 2016
And this is the abstract of the paper "Chronology of Onset of Mental Disorders and Physical Diseases in Mental-Physical Comorbidity - A National Representative Survey of Adolescents" by Tegetoff et al (2016):
The objective was to estimate temporal associations between mental disorders and physical diseases in adolescents with mental-physical comorbidities.
This article bases upon weighted data (N = 6483) from the National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement (participant age: 13–18 years), a nationally representative United States cohort. Onset of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition lifetime mental disorders was assessed with the fully structured World Health Organization Composite International Diagnostic Interview, complemented by parent report. Onset of lifetime medical conditions and doctor-diagnosed diseases was assessed by self-report.
The most substantial temporal associations with onset of mental disorders preceding onset of physical diseases included those between affective disorders and arthritis (hazard ratio (HR) = 3.36, 95%-confidence interval (CI) = 1.95 to 5.77) and diseases of the digestive system (HR = 3.39, CI = 2.30 to 5.00), between anxiety disorders and skin diseases (HR = 1.53, CI = 1.21 to 1.94), and between substance use disorders and seasonal allergies (HR = 0.33, CI = 0.17 to 0.63). The most substantial temporal associations with physical diseases preceding mental disorders included those between heart diseases and anxiety disorders (HR = 1.89, CI = 1.41 to 2.52), epilepsy and eating disorders (HR = 6.27, CI = 1.58 to 24.96), and heart diseases and any mental disorder (HR = 1.39, CI = 1.11 to 1.74).
Findings suggest that mental disorders are antecedent risk factors of certain physical diseases in early life, but also vice versa. Our results expand the relevance of mental disorders beyond mental to physical health care, and vice versa, supporting the concept of a more integrated mental-physical health care approach, and open new starting points for early disease prevention and better treatments, with relevance for various medical disciplines.