The Role of Coping With Symptoms in Depression and Disability

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Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition

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Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and abdominal pain of functional origin (AP) are common gastrointestinal disorders in children, which are associated with increased risk for depression and disability. Both symptom severity and coping with symptoms may contribute to these outcomes. We hypothesized that children with AP use different coping strategies compared with those with IBD for a number of reasons, including the fact that fewer treatment options are available to them. We also examined whether coping was related to depression and functional disability beyond the contributions of symptom severity.


The study method included secondary data analysis of 2 existing data sets including 200 children with AP (73% girls, mean age 11.2 years) and 189 children with IBD (49% girls, mean age 13.8 years).


Compared with patients with IBD, patients with AP reported more use of coping strategies of self-isolation, behavioral disengagement, and catastrophizing, as well as problem solving and seeking social support. Multivariate analyses revealed that, in both samples, ≥1 coping strategies were associated with depression and functional disability, independent of symptom severity, and controlling for age and sex. In IBD, symptoms were not a significant predictor of depression but coping was. Catastrophizing predicted depression and disability in both samples.


Patients with AP report more frequent use of several of the coping strategies we measured compared with patients with IBD. Certain types of coping, particularly catastrophizing, were associated with greater depression and functional disability in both groups. Clinicians should be aware of maladaptive coping, which may be a risk factor for poor psychosocial and functional outcomes in both patient groups.



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