An ARCH lab alumnus, Emily Kornelsen, published a paper using data from the REACH study, entitled “Hair cortisol concentration and mental disorder in children with chronic physical illness”. Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stressors, and levels found in hair are useful in understanding the effects of chronic physiological stress. This paper sought to investigate the changes in hair cortisol concentration (HCC) over a 6-month follow-up in children who were newly diagnosed with a chronic physical illness (i.e. asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, food allergy or juvenile arthritis). Further, researchers wanted to quantify the extent that HCC was associated with mental disorder at first meeting compared to 6 months later.
In this pilot study, findings showed that baseline and six-month HCC were moderately correlated. Additionally, there were no differences in HCC across the different groups of chronic conditions. Results also showed that HCC was positively associated with reports of internalizing and externalizing disorders at baseline and externalizing disorders at six months. Overall, findings from this study provide preliminary evidence that physiological stress, measured with HCC, may be implicated in the relationship between physical and mental illness, and these associations align with attenuated stress responses over time.