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Spirituality helps teens cope with chronic illness

Spirituality may help teens cope with chronic illness, which can make life a living hell.
By HT Correspondent | IANS, Washington
UPDATED ON JAN 09, 2009 05:43 PM IST

Spirituality may help teens cope with chronic illness, which can make life a living hell.

Two recent studies, conducted by Michael Yi and Sian Cotton in University of Cincinnati (UC), investigated how adolescents with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may use spirituality to cope with illness.

Spirituality is defined as one's sense of meaning or purpose in life or one's sense of connectedness to the sacred or divine.

IBD is a term that refers mainly to ulcerative colitis - which causes ulcers in the colon - and Crohn's disease, which occurs when the immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract. The exact cause of IBD is not known, and there is no cure.

IBD patients experience recurrent abdominal pain, bloody stools and diarrhoea, among other serious problems, and have an increased risk for colon cancer.

Adolescents with IBD are also at risk for numerous psychosocial difficulties, including increased mental health problems and social stigma.

Teams led by Yi and Cotton collected data on socio-demographics, functional health status and psychosocial characteristics as well as spiritual well-being for 67 patients with IBD and 88 healthy adolescents between the ages of 11 and 19.

"Personal characteristics like self esteem, family functioning and social characteristics, like level of peer support, were similar between adolescents with IBD when compared to healthy peers, indicating that adolescents with IBD appear resilient," Yi said.

"However, health-related quality of life was significantly poorer in general. 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."

Cotton's analysis of the same 155 adolescents focussed on the relationships between levels of spiritual well-being and mental health outcomes in the adolescents with IBD as compared to their healthy peers.

Yi and Cotton decided to study IBD because it affects males and females at similar rates, has a relapsing and reduction course and peaks onset during late adolescence, said a Cincinnati release.

"There are few studies looking at religious or spiritual coping in chronic illness, especially in this age group," Yi said. "We hope to further our studies to include other chronic illnesses."

The results were published online in the Journal of Paediatrics and the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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