Diabetes Forecast

Are Children With Type 1 Diabetes at Increased Risk for Mental Illness?

What to Know

Many people assume that children with type 1 diabetes are more likely to develop mental illness and behavioral problems. They cite the stress caused by diabetes complications and the burden of managing care. However, little research backs up this fear. This study sought to evaluate the risk and to learn whether advances in care may have reduced whatever risk may exist. Finally, the study authors wanted to determine whether the risk of mental health problems was higher in newly diagnosed children than in those with a family history of mental illness.

The Study

Researchers reviewed the health records of more than 17,000 Swedish children with type 1 diabetes and more than 18,800 of their healthy siblings. All were born between 1973 and 2009. They looked for diagnoses of common mental illnesses, including depression, attempted suicide, anxiety, eating disorders, attention disorders, and autism. They then compared the risks of mental health problems in these children to those of more than 1 million healthy children with similar ages and characteristics.

The Results

About 8 percent of the children with type 1 diabetes had a mental health diagnosis. The risk of suicide attempts and other common mental illnesses was three times higher in children with type 1 diabetes during the 6 months after the onset of diabetes. It was two times higher throughout the 18-year study period. However, children born between 1997 and 2009 were less at risk than those born between 1973 and 1986. Healthy siblings had only a slightly higher risk of mental illness than similar children and were no more likely to have any one specific type of mental illness.


Children with type 1 diabetes are at high risk of mental illness, even if they have no family history of mental illness. Fortunately, that risk does seem to have diminished in recent years, as advances in diabetes care have allowed for more flexible lifestyles and eating habits. This study highlights the need to screen children with type 1 diabetes for mental illness, especially those who have been recently diagnosed. The children in this study get regular medical care, which may explain why their mental health issues were noticed and diagnosed at a higher rate than otherwise healthy children.

Risks of psychiatric disorders and suicide attempts in children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes: a population-based cohort study, by Butwicka and colleagues. Diabetes Care 2015;38:453–459 https://doi.org/10.2337/dc14-0262

The information on this screen does not take the place of care from your doctor or other health care provider. If you have general questions about diabetes or diabetes-related research, e-mail askada@diabetes.org or call 1-800-DIABETES (800-342-2382).



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