Objective To study the behaviour/emotional problems and family functioning in adolescents with and without chronic physical illnesses; to compare the same psychological parameters and family aspects in adolescents with different disorders.
Methods The sample consisted of 173 adolescents aged 13–16 years with one of the following physical chronic conditions: diabetes (n = 55); asthma (n = 59); or epilepsy (n = 59). Comparative data were obtained from a group of 301 schoolchildren. Test batteries (child behaviour checklist, youth self-report, self-report family inventory, socioeconomic status questions) were individually completed by adolescents and their mothers.
Results Overall, adolescents with physical illness had more behaviour/emotional problems compared with controls, although results varied according to the informants and disease severity. There were no differences found in family functioning characteristics between the two studied groups. Both mental health state and family functioning were very much associated with the number of disease-specific (disease severity and duration) and non-disease (socioeconomic status and family type) factors. Two risk groups were revealed: adolescents with asthma and epilepsy.
Conclusion Our results suggest that mental health in physically ill adolescents is poorer than in their healthy counterparts. At the same time families of chronically ill adolescents are functioning successfully. The findings of the study can help to develop new targeted interventions designed to improve the health and wellbeing of children with physical illnesses and their families. Our study also points to the need for applying these strategies to the most vulnerable and sensitive to challenge disease groups, as in our sample were adolescents with asthma and epilepsy.