Kids with type 1 diabetes and their closest relatives are more likely to experience mental health issues than people without the disease, Swedish researchers report.
“Many clinicians assume intuitively that diabetes in a child negatively affects the mental health of both the patient and the family members,” said study co-author Agnieszka Butwicka, an assistant professor at the Karolinska Institute in Solna. “But we think the answer is not that simple. Our study indicates that there could also be a genetic component behind this association.”
The findings — published Aug. 1 in the journal Diabetes Care — highlight the importance of mental health screening both for children with diabetes and their families. These mental health problems include depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders.
Researchers said the International Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Diabetes' current screening guidelines for kids with type 1 diabetes do not adequately address the needs of family members, who are also at risk for mental health issues. Researchers said it's unclear why type 1 diabetes and familial mental health issues are intertwined.
The study linked roughly 3.5 million people born in Sweden between 1973 and 2007 with their parents, full and half-siblings, and cousins. More than 20,000 were diagnosed in childhood with type 1 diabetes, and researchers found that they had nearly double the risk for depression and about 1.6 times the risk of anxiety and stress-related disorders than those without the disease.
In addition, their parents and full siblings had slightly higher risks for anxiety and stress-related disorders. Half-siblings and cousins had only slightly higher risks or none, the study found.
“These results are of high clinical relevance because they mean that therapeutic intervention should also involve close family members, not just patients,” Butwicka said in an institute news release.
The results suggest genetics may be a factor since parents, children and full siblings share more genetic material (about 50%) than half siblings (about 25%), and cousins (less than 12.5%), researchers said.
Because this was an observational study, it does not prove what caused the associations.
“More studies are needed to fully understand the underlying genetic and environmental contributions driving psychiatric disorders in type 1 diabetes,” said corresponding author Shengxin Liu, a doctoral student at Karolinska Institute.
The nonprofit Mental Health America has more about diabetes and mental health.
SOURCE: Swedish Research Council, Karolinska Institute, Aug. 1, 2022