Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a form of brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen and/or blood flow to the brain. This often puts people with HIE at increased risk for cerebral palsy and other disorders and/or pathologies of the central nervous system, including neurological and mental health concerns. The boundary lines between neurological health and mental health are often somewhat hazy, as health concerns relating to the brain can manifest in ways both clinical (as seen, for example, in diagnostic imaging) and psychological (such as with behavioral or mood disorders). Before delving deeper into the specific health concerns of children with HIE, it is useful to define the differences between the concerns addressed by neurologists and those addressed by psychiatrists or psychologists.
What Is the Difference Between a Neurological and Psychological Disorder/Disease?
Although there is significant debate about the exact boundary lines between these two disciplines, neurological disorders are generally defined as those with a specifically organic cause (physical diseases of the nervous system). Often, neurological diseases or disorders show up in clinical diagnostic testing. Psychological disorders (or mental health disorders) are functional disorders relating to emotional, social or mental stressors. Neurological issues are handled by neurologists or neurosurgeons, while mental health concerns are handled by psychiatrists or psychologists. Some disorders straddle the line between the two, giving rise to the field of neuropsychiatry. Practically, medical professionals evaluate the best way to treat a specific case, and can provide recommendations regarding the kind of care that would be most suitable to the specific needs of your child. It is worth noting that, in the US, the Board Certification for psychiatry and neurology are combined under the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.
What Are Some of the Specific Neurological and Mental Health Concerns Associated with HIE?
Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) can impact different parts of the brain, so it is difficult to generalize the disorders that may be present in a given individual. However, we do know that a significant percentage of individuals with HIE have cerebral palsy, which is associated with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and a higher rate of behavioral and emotional disorders such as depression, anxiety or ADHD, among others. Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy is, by definition, an injury to the brain, which means that there is the potential for comorbid neurological disorders as well.
What Can Parents Do To Help a Child with Neurological or Mental Health Concerns?
Parents of children with HIE may develop a treatment plan together with their primary care physician in order to address any mental or neurological health concerns. This may require referral to a specialist medical professional such as a neurologist, psychiatrist or psychologist. Depending on the results of the medical professional’s evaluation, parents can sometimes provide medication, schedule therapy sessions, or find local support resources for mental health concerns such as depression. State Departments of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities are sometimes able to provide parents with direction regarding what kind of services to seek out for their child, as well as information to ask therapists about during sessions.
Learn More About HIE and Neurological/Mental Health:
- Cerebral Palsy and Mental Health
- SAMHSA Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator
- Mental Health America: Guide to Finding Help and Find an Affiliate
- National Institute of Mental Health: Common Mental Health Concerns
- [Compilation] Mental Health Resources
- CHIP Insurance for Children’s Mental Health
- [PDF Guidebook] Guidelines for Understanding and Serving People with Intellectual Disabilities and Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Disorders