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The Connection Between Cerebral Palsy and Mental Health

cerebral palsy and mental health

Mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, mood, and personality disorders can develop in individuals with cerebral palsy.

Compared with individuals without cerebral palsy, those with CP have a higher chance of developing mental health disorders.

To help you understand the link between cerebral palsy and mental health disorders, this article will discuss why they often co-occur, which mental health disorders are most prevalent amongst individuals with CP, and how to spot the signs of a mental health disorder.

What Causes Mental Health Problems in People with Cerebral Palsy?

It’s suggested that the prevalence of mental health disorders in individuals with cerebral palsy is not necessarily related to the severity of one’s disability, but rather levels of stress, pain, fatigue, and perception of belonging.

Situations that can increase these factors include:

  • Bullying or teasing
  • Abuse
  • Inability to learn as quickly as their peers
  • Loneliness

What all these situations have in common is that they make the individual feel different because of their cerebral palsy.

Poor sleeping patterns, low physical activity, and pain (which are all commonly experienced by people with cerebral palsy) also increase the risk of developing mental health disorders.

For example, if you have chronic pain, it is likely that your sleep quality and mobility will also suffer.

What Are the Most Common Mental Health Problems?

This recent study shows that men with cerebral palsy had higher age-standardized prevalence than men without CP for:

  • Schizophrenic Disorders (2.8% to 0.7%)
  • Mood Affective Disorders (19.5 % to 8.1%)
  • Anxiety Disorders (19.5% to 11.1%)
  • Personality and Behavior Disorders (1.2% to 0.3%)
  • Opioid- and Alcohol-Related Disorders (4.7% to 3.0%)

When comparing women with cerebral palsy and women without, women with cerebral palsy had a higher prevalence of mental health disorders in all categories except opioid- and alcohol-related disorders.

Cerebral Palsy and Mental Health in Children

Children and teens are especially vulnerable to mental health problems.

The pressure to fit in and be liked by your peers during your teen years is generally very high.

Having a motor impairment like cerebral palsy and any of its associative conditions (hearing lossintellectual disabilities, visual impairments, epilepsy, etc.) may make it even more difficult because you may need special accommodations that further separate you from everyone else.

A secondary condition of cerebral palsy is speech impairment.

When paired with other motor impairments, it may become extremely frustrating to communicate with others.

This may cause children with cerebral palsy to become avoidant of social interactions, which increases their loneliness and their risk of developing mental health problems.

Signs of Mental Health Problems in Children

mental health problems with cp

Being able to recognize when someone is showing signs of behavioral problems is crucial to preventing mental health disorders from progressing.

Children often don’t understand their emotions or thoughts enough to explain them, which results in behavioral symptoms.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, symptoms of mental health conditions in young children include:

  • Changes in school performance
  • Excessive anxiety
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Aggressive or disobedient behavior
  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Withdrawal from activities they usually enjoy

In moderation, these behaviors are typical of young children; however, when they occur excessively, they may be suggestive of something problematic beneath the surface.

Treatments for Cerebral Palsy and Mental Health Disorders

There are a variety of treatments for most mental health disorders.

Seeking a professional to determine mental health problems is necessary to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Mental health disorders are generally treated through behavioral psychotherapy or medications.

In therapy, you’ll be able to talk about your problems and learn practical ways to cope with the problem.

Often, there’s a chemical imbalance of your neurotransmitters that affect your mood and behavior. Medications like antidepressants can help regulate neurotransmitter levels in the brain.

Keep in mind that medications for mental disorders may cause further motor impairment. Make sure to notify your doctor if you experience reduced motor function. You may be prescribed a different medication to prevent further functional impairment.

Cerebral Palsy and Mental Health: Summary

understanding how cerebral palsy affects mental health

Not everyone with cerebral palsy will have a mental health disorder.

However, many secondary and associative conditions of cerebral palsy can contribute to the development of one.

Therefore, people with cerebral palsy are more likely to have mental health disorders than people without cerebral palsy.

Children and teens with cerebral palsy are vulnerable to developing mental health disorders (especially in school when they’re surrounded by peers their own age and want to be part of a social group).

As a parent of a child with cerebral palsy, it’s important to be aware of behaviors that may point to the development of mental health disorders.

A professional evaluation provides a conclusive diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Hopefully, this article helped you understand how cerebral palsy affects mental health.

photos: iStock/olesiabilkei/Valeriy_G

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You’re on a Roll: Discover a home exercise program for CP that’s actually fun to do!

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Finally! There’s a recovery device for CP that’s actually fun to use. See how Flint Rehab’s tools are helping with CP recovery:

“The FitMi and MusicGlove have done wonders for my son with hemiparesis from cerebral palsy and stroke.

It motivates him to do his exercises. It does not seem like therapy for him since it is fun. It monitors his progress so it is a great reinforcement for him.

Music is a motivator for him. He has been using it on his arm and we will try the leg exercises soon.”

FitMi works by motivating high repetition of therapeutic exercises while playing an engaging game. This gamification has been particularly great for motivating individuals with cerebral palsy to recover.

To see how FitMi works, click the button below:

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