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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Spirituality May Help Teens Cope With Illness

Spirituality—defined as a sense of meaning and purpose in life and a connectedness with the divine—can help teens cope with chronic illness, according to new research led by Dr. Michael Yi, a professor of medicine, and Sian Cotton, a clinical psychologist and research scientist, at the University of Cincinnati. In two studies, they looked at how adolescents deal with inflammatory bowel disease, which causes chronic inflammation of the intestines and can lead to poorer quality of life with regard to health. "On average, when compared to their healthy peers, patients with IBD were willing to trade more years of their life expectancy or risk a greater chance of death in order to achieve a better state of health,” Yi says. One of the strongest predictors of poorer overall quality of life, the researchers found, is a lower level of spiritual well-being.
It also seems that spirituality might play a significant role in teens with IBD when it comes to emotional well-being—helping them to cope with their illness. While "both healthy adolescents and those with IBD had relatively high levels of spiritual well-being," Cotton says, "the positive association between spiritual well-being and mental health outcomes was stronger in the adolescents with IBD as compared to their healthy peers."
Currently, researchers are studying spiritual coping in teens with IBD, asthma, and sickle cell disease, with plans to extend their investigations to other chronic illnesses. “While adolescents with IBD have specific issues that are unique to that group, we feel that these studies help to create a systematic approach to better understanding spirituality and religious coping in pediatric populations,” Cotton says. “We felt it was best to examine these issues first in a homogeneous population and then determine whether these findings can be generalized in adolescents with other chronic conditions or how they might be different across different illness groups.”
The studies appear in online editions of the Journal of Pediatrics and the Journal of Adolescent Health. —Heather Wax