Living with a chronic condition: Overview

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​Find out how a chronic condition affects your child's mental health and how to help them adjust to a recent diagnosis.

Key points

  • ​A chronic condition can affect many aspects of your child's everyday routine at a time when they are figuring out who they are and what they enjoy.
  • Some children with a chronic condition may develop symptoms of anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions.
  • You can help your child or teen adjust by treating them as a whole person and encouraging them to develop a set of physical, behavioural and mental coping strategies.

A diagnosis of a chronic (long-term) condition can have a major impact on a child or teen.

Life with a chronic condition often involves dealing with symptoms, taking medications, attending more medical appointments than usual and having more frequent tests and procedures to monitor any changes. As a result, your child or teen might miss school, activities with friends or family, hobbies or sports at a time when they are figuring out who they are and what they like, as well as trying to become independent.

Impact of chronic condition on mental health

Some children with a chronic condition may be more likely to develop symptoms of anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions. This can look like worry and sadness, but also frustration, anger and irritability. There can be many reasons for this.

  • When they learn they have a chronic health condition, many children and teens, understandably, may be afraid of the unknown and struggle with their added healthcare responsibilities.
  • Some children may start to see themselves differently and struggle to relate to their healthy friends. Over time, this might cause them to withdraw from social situations and become isolated.
  • Other children and teens might find it hard to balance their growing independence with the need for support to manage their illness from parents and their healthcare team.

Helping your child adjust to a chronic condition

As your child or teen adjusts to a chronic condition, it is important to take care of them as a whole person and support them in managing all aspects of the condition, whether they are physical, emotional, behavioural or social.

Help your child develop their own set of coping strategies for their chronic condition. For instance, you can help them identify what helps ease their symptoms, whether they are:

  • physical strategies (such as hot packs or a warm bath)
  • behaviours (such as deep breathing or stretching, or doing fun things)
  • coping thoughts (such as, “I can get through this.”, “I’ve done this before, I can do this again.”).

The way you parent and support your child will change as your child gets older and as they spend more time living with a chronic condition. Typically, you will need to be more involved with a younger child and/or shortly after diagnosis. As your child becomes a teenager, your focus will shift towards helping them learn to manage their condition and become more independent.

Last updated: November 26th 2018