The prevalence of chronic physical illnesses and their association with mental disorders was assessed using data collected by primary care pediatricians. A chronic illness was diagnosed in 1573 (15.6%) of 10 058 children aged 4 to 16 years, 945 (9.4%) of whom had a "serious" disorder, 535 (5.3%) had a minor disorder (hay fever or dermatitis), and 121 (1.2%) had a speech or language disorder. Behavioral problems were identified more often among patients with "serious" disorders than among those without chronic illnesses (2.4% vs 1.7%), as were emotional problems (5.0% vs 3.1%). Among those with "serious" conditions involving the central nervous system, the prevalence of behavioral (5.2%) and emotional (10.4%) disorders was still higher. Although children with "serious" disorders not involving the central nervous system also showed elevated prevalence rates of behavioral (2.1%) and emotional (4.5%) disturbances, this increase did not reach statistical significance. No association with "minor" chronic disorders was found. The negative impact of these mental health problems on the child was more severe when a chronic illness was also present, but referrals for mental health services did not reflect his association.
- Received August 21, 1990.
- Accepted March 11, 1991.
- Copyright © 1992 by the American Academy of Pediatrics