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Mental Health Distress of Children with Sickle Cell Disease


child crying with sickle cell disease

September marks the end of summer and the beginning of fall.

Did you know that September is also designated by Congress as National Sickle Cell Awareness Month for continued research and treatment for sickle cell disease?

For those who are not familiar with sickle cell disease, or SCD, this is an inherited disorder in which the red blood cells become crescent shaped. This causes impaired blood flow, pain, as well as other health problems due to difficulty passing through small blood vessels. Many of today’s treatment focus on relieving symptoms and preventing complications through medication and blood transfusions. For some children and teenagers, a blood and marrow transplant may provide a cure for the disease.


Living with sickle cell disease can be challenging for both the child and the caregiver. Today’s blog attempts to address a few mental health challenges for children with sickle cell disease.

  • Anxiety and Depression: Pain episodes are a common problem for children with sickle cell disease. Many studies have aimed to look at depression linked to sickle cell disease, and found that the pain episodes and issues related to the chronic symptoms can have lasting psychological effects on the child.

  • Cognitive Impairment: Sickle cell disease can also be the reason behind reduced blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain, resulting in learning difficulties.

  • Physical Impairment: Some children may be smaller than peers or look different than peers, resulting in teasing or bullying targets.

  • Feelings of uncertainty: Health related events may occur anytime, anywhere, leading to feelings of stress and fear.

  • Isolation: Issues related to self-image and friendships can lead to social isolation.

  • Sleep disorders: The importance of sleep is crucial for children’s development, while some children with sickle cell disease may experience pain affecting their overall well being in various aspects of life.

  • Medical trauma: Visits to the hospital and treatments often mean many pokes and procedures which can also be challenging.

Hence, it is crucial for children with sickle cell disease to identify their strengths and have supportive people and resources around them. Child life specialists are trained professionals equipped to teach children how to build a coping tool box to maximize coping and minimize stress and trauma. Our team at Hearts Connected is available to help you or your child navigate and cope with these types of medical situations. Schedule your free consult today to talk directly with one of our child life specialists about how we can support you and your family.

Also check out the blog post, Supporting the Mental Health of Children with Chronic Illness (https://www.heartsconnected.org/post/supporting-the-mental-health-of-children-with-chronic-illness) for further tips for parents.