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Teenagers fighting tuberculosis forced to battle depression too, say doctors

Fourteen-year-old Meena Khan (name changed), has stopped going to school since she was diagnosed with extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR TB).

“I didn’t want to tell my friends about my disease. Every time I wear a mask, they tease me,” Khan said. During her treatment, Khan’s chest physician referred her to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with depression. “I am now taking medicines for both the conditions. It is overwhelming to take so many medicines,” she said.

Depression is one of the challenges that adolescent TB patients often deal with in silence. Dr Milan Balakrishnan, a city-based psychiatrist, said adolescents are more vulnerable to depression than adults. “They are already in a ‘transition period’ in their lives, emotionally and physically. Dealing with a disease as long-drawn as TB is overwhelming. The anti-TB medicines also affect the appetite which in turn affects the mood.”

According to Balakrishnan, parents of children with TB are usually so focused on curing the disease that they often miss out of the symptoms of emotional distress.

Dr Vikas Oswal said that he often sees body image-related issues among adolescent patients.

“Weight loss and changes in skin colour caused by medicines often bother patients. Chest physicians actively need to look for patients who are emotionally stressed by these issues and refer them to counsellors. We also ask parents to look for symptoms where they socially withdraw themselves,” he said.

Civic officials said psychiatrists present at all drug-resistant TB (DRTB) centres in the city evaluate patients for emotional stress and depression. Dr Padmaja Keskar, the city’s executive health officer, said that depression is common among TB patients in all age-groups.

“The treatment for multi-drug resistant (MDR TB) lasts for two years which is a stressful event for patients, both emotionally and financially.”

First Published:
Mar 24, 2019 04:27 IST

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