Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Asthma Linked to Teen Depression

By Stephen Luntz

Severe childhood asthma increases the risk of depression and anxiety among teenagers, a study published in Psychological Medicine reveals. However, no link was found between mental health issues and mild asthma.

“We were interested in understanding the link between asthma in early childhood and mental health problems later on, as little is known about the relationship,” said Dr Monique Robinson of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research.

Children whose asthma was diagnosed by the time they were five had a 50% chance of suffering from some form of mental illness. The good news is that children appeared to learn to adapt to the condition, with older asthmatics showing a lower risk – although it was still substantially higher than for those with little or no breathing difficulties.

“It’s not that asthma causes depression,” Robinson says. “However, children may be socially isolated if they cannot play sport or participate in other activities.

“That’s only one explanation. It could be simply knowing you have a health problem, or spending a lot of time in hospitals and managing the condition. Asthma itself does not cause depression, but perceiving yourself as sick might.”

Robinson was not able to test for the effect of children’s participation in sport, noting: “In a longitudinal study it is difficult to control for things that change a lot over the period”.