Mental health issues in children and teens with lupus

Lupus Foundation of America

Resource Content

Lupus is a challenging disease for anyone to learn to live with. It can be even more challenging when you are a child or teen. 

Children and teens experience a wide range of physical and emotional changes as they grow. These changes can be burdensome when also coping with lupus.

1 in 3 Number of young people with lupus who experience depression or anxiety

It is important to recognize that mental health is just as important as physical health when caring for children and teens.

Mental health can have a dramatic impact on physical health – either positive or negative. Coping with the emotional challenges of lupus, and knowing how and when to get help if you’re a young person with the disease, can make all the difference. 

  • 1 in 3 young people with lupus have depression and/or anxiety
  • 1 in 6 young people with lupus have thoughts of suicide, which is higher than their healthy peers
  • Up to 75%  of youth with lupus have not had a mental health evaluation

How a lupus diagnosis can lead to depression and anxiety

Pediatric lupus typically begins during adolescence, which is a critical time for psychological development. Children and teens may struggle with negative feelings after being diagnosed, such as stress or angst, and can experience depression or anxiety.

Mental health problems can make it more difficult for teenagers and children to keep their lupus under control, get in the way of their education and employment opportunities, create challenges in their personal relationships, and lower their quality of life.

If you are newly diagnosed, it can help to remember that there is hope. By recognizing the  disease early, young people can take advantage of effective treatments and prevent their symptoms from  getting worse over time.

Warning signs to watch for in your child or teen

Children and teens should pay attention to these warning signs–they can indicate a mental health concern that should be addressed:

  • Loss of interest in friends and activities
  • Change in personality, such as being sad or withdrawn
  • Change in ability to concentrate on schoolwork and  routine tasks
  • Change in sleep patterns and eating habits
  • Fear of losing control or acting erratically
  • Low self-esteem
  • No hope for the future
  • Talking about dying

For urgent evaluation for threats of self-harm or harm to others, go to the emergency room, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

How to find help

Further evaluation by a mental health professional may be necessary to help find the best treatment. A range of mental health therapies–including stress management techniques, exercise and sleep improvement, support groups, talk therapy and medications–can help children and teens manage mental health challenges.

It’s important to make emotional health a regular part of your health discussions with your healthcare providers. Do not be afraid to get help early by asking about mental health resources at your doctor’s office.

We encourage you to reach out to our Health Educators at 1-800-558-0121 if you have additional questions.

Learn more about the mental health challenges faced by young people with lupus

In the presentation below, Dr. Andrea Knight, MD, MSCE offers insight into how lupus can impact mental health and provides information on what steps can be taken to promote mental well-being in children and teens.

Andrea Knight, MD, MSCE

is an assistant professor at The University of Pennsylvania and an attending physician in the Division of Rheumatology at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.