Children living with mental disorder are at risk for lower health-related quality of life (HRQoL) compared to their peers. While evidence suggests that cortisol dysregulation is implicated in the onset of mental disorder, the extent to which cortisol is associated with HRQoL is largely unknown. Further, it remains unknown how comorbid physical illness may alter this relationship. This study examined whether the presence of a comorbid physical illness moderated the association between hair cortisol concentration (HCC) and HRQoL among children with mental disorder.
One-hundred children (4-17 years) receiving care from a pediatric hospital were recruited. The Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview was used to measure mental disorder and the KIDSCREEN-27 to assess HRQoL. Cortisol extracted from children's hair was assayed using high-sensitivity ELISA. Multiple regression analyses tested the association between HCC and HRQoL.
Presence of a physical illness was found to moderate the relationship between HCC and HRQoL in the domain of peers and social support [comorbidity: β = −0.57 (−0.97, −0.17); no comorbidity: β = 0.22 (−0.11, 0.55)].
The association between HCC and HRQoL in children with mental disorder is moderated by the presence of a physical illness, such that in children with comorbid physical and mental disorder, elevated HCC is associated with lower HRQoL. Approaches that reduce stress in these children may help promote optimal well-being. More research investigating physiological stress and psychosocial outcomes in children with mental disorder, particularly those with comorbid physical illness, is needed.