Adults with cerebral palsy at greater risk of mental illness, study suggests

Adults with cerebral palsy may be more at risk of mental illness, a new study has revealed.

The research, published in JAMA Neurology, suggests that mental health disorders may develop as a result of the symptoms commonly associated with the condition, such as pain or fatigue.

The researchers looked at clinician diagnoses of depression and anxiety in 1,705 adults with cerebral palsy aged 18 to 89, as well as 5,115 adults without the condition.

Significantly, it was found that adults with cerebral palsy had a 28 per cent increased risk of being diagnosed with depression and a 40 per cent greater risk of being diagnosed with anxiety, compared to adults who did not have cerebral palsy.

Although the exact cause of the increased risk of mental illness is unclear, the researchers suspect that life-long symptoms of cerebral palsy may play a major role.

It is common for someone with the condition to experience near-constant pain and fatigue as a result of cerebral palsy, which have been linked to poorer mental health in the general population.

Likewise, those with cerebral palsy experience a higher rate of heart disease, stroke and arthritis, diseases all linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety.

And due to the limitations and stigma surrounding cerebral palsy, adults may experience difficulties with employment, discrimination and loneliness, all factors which can significantly influence mood and mental wellbeing.

Commenting on the findings, the authors said: “The reality is that it is probably a combination of the above factors that lead to worsening mental health in adults with cerebral palsy, but we can only speculate because of the lack of research in this area.

“This lack of research into ageing with cerebral palsy has a direct effect on the care services that are provided for cerebral palsy. Children with cerebral palsy usually have access to specialised care, but as adults, they are discharged from these services and often struggle to find health professionals with knowledge of their condition.”