SUNDAY, April 29, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Special-needs youth with chronic medical conditions or developmental disabilities are at risk for anxiety and depression if they're excluded, ignored or bullied by other young people, a new small study says.
It included 109 youngsters, ages 8 to 17, who were recruited during routine visits to a U.S. children's hospital. The patients and their parents completed questionnaires that screen for symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the youngsters also completed a questionnaire that asked them about bullying or exclusion by their peers.
The patients in the study had one or more conditions such as: attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (39 percent); cystic fibrosis (22 percent); type 1 or 2 diabetes (19 percent); sickle cell disease (11 percent); obesity (11 percent); learning disability (11 percent); autism (9 percent); and short stature (6 percent).
The researchers found that being bullied and/or excluded by peers were the strongest predictors of increased symptoms of depression or anxiety in the young patients.
"What is notable about these findings is that despite all the many challenges these children face in relation to their chronic medical or developmental diagnosis, being bullied or excluded by their peers were the factors most likely to predict whether or not they reported symptoms of depression," study leader Dr. Margaret Ellis McKenna, a senior fellow in developmental-behavioral pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina, said in an American Academy of Pediatrics news release.
"Professionals need to be particularly alert in screening for the presence of being bullied or ostracized in this already-vulnerable group of students," she added.
McKenna said schools should have clear policies to prevent and address bullying and exclusion, as well as programs that promote a culture of inclusion and a sense of belonging for all students.
The study was slated for Sunday presentation at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in Boston. The data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration has more about bullying and youth with disabilities and special health needs.