Understanding Pediatric Youth: Uncertainty
Youth with chronic medical conditions, and their families, face many different challenges due to their conditions. Many studies have been conducted about the specific challenges faced by many youth with certain conditions (e.g., diabetes, asthma, cystic fibrosis), and we see that certain things come up frequently as challenges that these youth face. One of my primary research interests is focusing on these difficulties that span across medical conditions, and what they can tell us about the experiences of pediatric youth more generally.
One challenge that comes up for many conditions falls within the area of uncertainty. There are many different aspects of a medical condition that can lead to uncertainty: unpredictability of symptoms, unclear medical explanation for condition, alternating patterns of improvement and worsening, uncertain periods of remission, and so on. Unsurprisingly, the uncertainty can have a major impact on family members as well, especially parents.
Several studies have been done on the effects of uncertainty. Having feelings of uncertainty regarding a youth's medical condition has been linked to increased anxiety (Hommel et al. 2003), higher stress levels (Mishel, 1981), and more depressive symptoms (Mullins et al. 2000). These difficulties can be chronic, as many medical conditions remain unpredictable over time.
As clinicians, we need to make sure we are taking into account the potential influence of uncertainty on a child and his/her family. As researchers, we need to consider how uncertainty may explain some of our findings. As a child/teen, or parent of a child/teen who has feelings of uncertainty regarding a medical condition, I encourage you to speak with the child's physician to help gain a better understanding of the medical condition(s). If that does not help, a pediatric psychology may be able to help you navigate the challenges of facing constant uncertainty.
We are still in the early stages of knowing how to handle uncertainty. Thankfully, we have become more aware than ever that it is something to take into consideration. By studying illness-related factors, such as uncertainty, we can help to improve the lives of pediatric youth even further.
In future posts, I plan to detail other factors that need to be taken into consideration when thinking about pediatric youth and their families. Have thoughts on the subject? Let me know in the comments!
Hommel, K. A., Chaney, J. M., Wagner, J. L., White, M. M., Hoff, A. L., & Mullins, L. L. (2003). Anxiety and depression in older adolescents with long-standing asthma: The role of illness uncertainty. Children’s Health Care, 32(1), 51–63.
Mishel, M. (1981). The measurement of uncertainty in illness. Nursing Research, 30(5), 258–263.
Mullins, L., Chaney, J., Balderson, B., & Hommel, K. (2000). The relationship of illness uncertainty, illness intrusiveness, and asthma severity to depression in young adults with long-standing asthma. International Journal of Rehabilitation and Health, 5(3), 177–186.