Premature babies risk mental health problems, say experts

June 28, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Premature or low birthweight babies are more than three times more likely to suffer from anxiety and mood disorders in adolescence than full-term infants, according to psychologists at the University of Birmingham.

Professor Stephen Wood, working with co-investigators at the University of Melbourne in Australia, conducted a of ten studies into mental health outcomes in children born prematurely.

The research, published in , found that youngsters who were born early or were underweight at birth were at ‘significantly increased risk’ of disorders, particularly during their teens.

In the general population psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression and psychosis often emerge around puberty although these may be preceded by emotional and behavioural disturbances in childhood.

"As more and more of these babies survive and their physical problems are combated, we are seeing an apparent increase in mood and anxiety disorders," explains Professor Wood. "It would appear that the earlier a baby is born the more chance there is of problems of this nature occurring."

This is the first time there has been concrete evidence from the whole field that this is an issue, he adds. ‘While conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have been known to be a problem in this group, this shows that the chance of developing other mental disorders is also increased.

"While we cannot as yet be sure of the cause of this problem in pre-term babies – indeed there could be multiple causes – we believe one factor could be how early life trauma affects the way the brain handles stress, and we are now exploring this in more detail," says Professor Wood.

While parents should not be alarmed, the researchers say, they should be aware of what to look out for. "We believe it is important to raise awareness of this issue and pay attention to it. It is easy to ignore or miss the signs and early care is extremely helpful. Being aware can increase the likelihood of mood disorders being diagnosed and tackled. There are many services available for young people and we would recommend psychological therapies for young people rather than medication."

They team concludes: "In addition to monitoring and management of medical and cognitive problems, the psychological well-being of pre-term/low birthweight individuals should be a key part of ongoing care.

"Medical professionals involved in the care of survivors of preterm/low birthweight are perfectly positioned to assist these vulnerable individuals as they navigate the challenges of adolescence and young adulthood."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New study rebuts the claim that antidepressants do not work

August 18, 2017
A theory that has gained considerable attention in international media, including Newsweek and the CBS broadcast 60 minutes, suggests that antidepressant drugs such as the SSRIs do not exert any actual antidepressant effect. ...

Should I stay or should I leave? Untangling what goes on when a relationship is being questioned

August 17, 2017
Knowing whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship is often an agonizing experience and that ambivalence can have negative consequences for health and well-being.

Kids learn moral lessons more effectively from stories with humans than human-like animals

August 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto found that four to six-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic ...

History of stress increases miscarriage risk, says new review

August 17, 2017
A history of exposure to psychological stress can increase the risk of miscarriage by upto 42 per cent, according to a new review.

Study finds children pay close attention to potentially threatening information, avoid eye contact when anxious

August 17, 2017
We spend a lot of time looking at the eyes of others for social cues – it helps us understand a person's emotions, and make decisions about how to respond to them. We also know that adults avoid eye contact when anxious. ...

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision making

August 16, 2017
If you could save the lives of five people by pushing another bystander in front of a train to his death, would you do it? And should it make any difference if that choice is presented in a language you speak, but isn't your ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.