Creating healthier futures for ill children

Mental health issues and chronic illnesses

Chronic illnesses predispose children for higher risk in developing mental disorders. This article gives an overview of the important associations between mental health and chronic illnesses among children.

The rates of chronic illnesses among children are incresing rapidly. At the same time, mental health issues can have long-term health consequences but these issues also interfere with the treatment process of underlying chronic illness. Situation is further complicated by the fact that 60% of chronically ill children have at least one co-occurring mental disorder (Butler et al. 2018). This attest to the need to further the understanding of psychological problems occurring under the conditions of chronic illness, both at the level of risk factors and disease processes, but also by searching for effective novel intervention strategies.

Psychological support, although generally seen as a necessary integral part of comprehensive and effective care, has not yet been unified across hospitals and care centers. Differences in the availability of quality psychological support across treatment centers increases the likelihood of leaving psychological problems unattended, which in turn may have long lasting negative consequences. To be more specific, unattended psychological problems may lead to problems in patient treatment compliance in pediatric care settings, thus amplifying already high disease burden that itself might have had initial causal role in development of observed psychological problem. Furthermore, unattended psychological problems in childhood strongly dispose patients to have psychological problems later in the adulthood. All in all, timely and accessible evidence-based psychological support in pediatric care setting might be a crucial factor in achieving both long- and short-term desirable outcomes.

The chronic illness related factors leading to mental burden, such as change of daily routines, treatment procedures and uncertainty, are largely universal across different health conditions (Secinti et al. 2017). Associated to that, various intervention strategies aimed at reducing chronic illness related mental burden (e.g. psychoeducational programs, solution focused brief therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based interventions) have been used interchangeably among different health conditions.

We at Triumf offer a newly developed innovative intervention strategy that aims to reduce the negative psychological changes associated with chronic illness through a mobile health (mHealth) platform. The intervention is delivered through a game environment to educate patients on their condition and in addition, to profile and screen the well-being of the child while offering psychoeducation and/or coping techniques accordingly. At the same time, the game offers external motivation, cognitive challenge and distraction, also activity-based learning.


Butler, Alexandra, Ryan J. Van Lieshout, Ellen Louise Lipman, Harriet L. MacMillan, Andrea Gonzalez, Jan Willem Gorter, Kathy Georgiades, Kathy N. Speechley, Michael H. Boyle, and Mark A. Ferro. 2018. “Mental Disorder in Children with Physical Conditions: A Pilot Study.” BMJ Open 8 (1).
Secinti, Ekin, Ellen J. Thompson, Marcus Richards, and Darya Gaysina. 2017. “Research Review: Childhood Chronic Physical Illness and Adult Emotional Health - a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines 58 (7): 753–69.

Riin Tark


Riin Tark

Focusing on stakeholder engagement and user experience. She brings domain expertise in clinical child psychology.