Updated 29 May 2015

Divorce can increase psychosomatic symptoms in teens

Teens whose parents are separated or divorced are at an increased risk of experiencing stomach pain, sleep problems and other physical symptoms caused by psychological distress.


Teens may have an increased risk for psychosomatic symptoms - physical problems caused by mental distress - if their parents separate or divorce, a new study suggests.

Those who lived mostly with one parent due to a family breakup had the most psychosomatic symptoms, while those who lived in the same home with both parents had the fewest. Children whose parents had joint custody arrangements had fewer psychosomatic symptoms than those who lived mostly or only with one parent, but still had more than those who lived with both parents in the same home.

Although this study found a connection between teens' symptoms and their family living situations, the study wasn't designed to prove cause-and-effect.

Read: Know the symptoms of depression

For the study, researchers analysed data from nearly 150,000 Swedish youngsters, aged 12 to 15. They were assessed for potential psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, sleep problems, poor concentration, loss of appetite, and feelings of tension, sadness and dizziness.

Factors such as children's quality of relationship with their parents, or family wealth, did not explain the differences in psychosomatic symptoms found among children in various family situations, the researchers said.

The researchers noted that psychosomatic symptoms are related to stress. And living in two different homes can be stressful for children. However, researchers said this stress may be reduced by maintaining close contact with both parents.

The study was published online April 27 in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Read more:

Divorce harder for kids from wealthy homes

Why marriages fail

Keeping kids whole when you split

Image: Daughter covers ears as parents fight

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Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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