Background: Despite the considerable physical, emotional and social change that occurs during emerging adulthood, there is little research that examines the association between having a chronic health condition and mental disorder during this developmental period. The aims of this study were to examine the sex-specific prevalence of lifetime mental disorder in an epidemiological sample of emerging adults aged 15-30 years with and without chronic health conditions; quantify the association between chronic health conditions and mental disorder, adjusting for sociodemographic and health factors; and, examine potential moderating and mediating effects of sex, level of disability and pain.
Method: Data come from the Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health. Respondents were 15-30 years of age (n = 5947) and self-reported whether they had a chronic health condition. Chronic health conditions were classified as: respiratory, musculoskeletal/connective tissue, cardiovascular, neurological and endocrine/digestive. The World Health Organization Composite International Diagnostic Interview 3.0 was used to assess the presence of mental disorder (major depressive disorder, suicidal behaviour, bipolar disorder and generalised anxiety disorder).
Results: Lifetime prevalence of mental disorder was significantly higher for individuals with chronic health conditions compared with healthy controls. Substantial heterogeneity in the prevalence of mental disorder was found in males, but not in females. Logistic regression models adjusting for several sociodemographic and health factors showed that the individuals with chronic health conditions were at elevated risk for mental disorder. There was no evidence that the level of disability or pain moderated the associations between chronic health conditions and mental disorder. Sex was found to moderate the association between musculoskeletal/connective tissue conditions and bipolar disorder (β = 1.71, p = 0.002). Exploratory analyses suggest that the levels of disability and pain mediate the association between chronic health conditions and mental disorder.
Conclusions: Physical and mental comorbidity is prevalent among emerging adults and this relationship is not augmented, but may be mediated, by the level of disability or pain. Findings point to the integration and coordination of public sectors - health, education and social services - to facilitate the prevention and reduction of mental disorder among emerging adults with chronic health conditions.
Keywords: Anxiety disorder; bipolar disorder; chronic disease; depression; epidemiological studies; mood disorder; suicidality.