Reading Time: 3 minutes

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common motor disability in childhood, and individuals with CP and their families need support. Cerebral means having to do with the brain. Palsy means weakness or problems with using the muscles.

  • The symptoms of CP vary from person to person. A person with severe CP might need to use special equipment to be able to walk or might not be able to walk at all and might need lifelong care. A person with mild CP, on the other hand, might walk a little awkwardly, but might not need any special help. CP does not get worse over time, though the exact symptoms can change over a person’s lifetime.
  • Population-based studies from around the world report prevalence estimates of CP ranging from 1.5 to more than 4 per 1,000 live births or children of a defined age range. Cerebral palsy (CP) and related developmental disorders are more common in males than in females, but the reasons for this disparity are uncertain.
  • Most CP is related to brain damage that happened before or during birth and it is called congenital CP.  A small percentage of CP is caused by brain damage that happens more than 28 days after birth. This is called acquired CP. In many cases of CP, the specific cause is not known.
  • Cognitive impairment is present in two thirds of patients with cerebral palsy. Anxiety, anger, emotional outbursts, and other behavioural issues may arise due to cognitive impairment. One of the most common reasons why this occurs is because children with cognitive problems have difficulties with learning and aren’t catching on the way their peers are. They may feel uncomfortable and misunderstood, which can lead to bouts of anger, acting out in class and at home, and becoming anxious and depressed. 
  • Many people with CP have one or more additional conditions or diseases along with their CP, known as co-occurring conditions. For example, about 4 in 10 children with CP also have epilepsy and about 1 in 10 have autism spectrum disorder.
  • There are several associated conditions that often, but not always, accompany cognitive impairments, including: anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, behavioural challenges, depression or moodiness, fatigue, inability to connect emotionally, psychological disorders and sleep disturbances.
  • Mental health is threatened by many factors like chronic pain, losing your ability to move, experience of independency and social isolation which all offer a threat to one’s mental health.
  • People with disabilities or chronic health conditions may be as much as 3-4 times more likely to develop depression and anxiety disorders. Research suggests this link is not necessarily related to the severity of a person’s disability but is instead tied to things like levels of stress, management of pain and fatigue, coping skills, or family and social support.
  • Young adults with CP often have lower rates of employment or post-secondary education, less participation in social activities and they tend to rely more heavily on their families for living arrangements. This all might increase social isolation and some of the people with CP feel lonely more often which is a risk for mental health.
  • Many people with cerebral palsy can expect to have a normal life expectancy. With the appropriate services and support, children and adults with CP can stay well, active, and a part of the community. 

Although it is good to acknowledge that Cerebral palsy does expose to several mental health problems, it is also important to understand that with proper treatment, support and services it is possible to enjoy life with CP.  Early recognition of mental health issues is important, so if you are worried about yourself or your loved one, contact your doctor and share your concerns.

 References:

Van Der, S. L., Wilma, M. A., Nieuwenhuijsen, C., VAN DEN BERG‐EMONS, R. J., Bergen, M. P., Hilberink, S. R., … & Roebroeck, M. E. (2012). Chronic pain, fatigue, and depressive symptoms in adults with spastic bilateral cerebral palsy. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 54(9), 836-842.

 Sienko, S. E. (2017). An exploratory study investigating the multidimensional factors impacting the health and well-being of young adults with cerebral palsy. Disability and rehabilitation, 1-10.

Vilhelmiina Välimäki is a Finnish psychologist, who moved to Malta 2018 and has been slowly but surely adjusting to the Maltese environment and culture. She works at Willingness as a Clinical Psychologist and she is specialised in offering support to individuals from different age groups, couples and families.  You can contact her on vilhelmiina@willingness.com.mt or 9944 9910.