Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms in Parents of Children With Cancer Within Six Months of Diagnosis

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Objective: To investigate levels and correlates of posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) in mothers and fathers of children and youth with cancer. Methods: Mothers (n = 191) and fathers (n = 95), representing 195 families of children and youth with cancer, completed measures of PTSS (Impact of Event Scale-Revised), depression (Beck Depression Inventory-II), and anxiety (Beck Anxiety Inventory) between 2 and 22 weeks after their child's cancer diagnosis or recurrence of initial diagnosis. Results: Substantial subgroups of mothers (41%) and fathers (30%) reported levels of PTSS that exceeded cut-offs for elevated symptoms, and these subgroups of parents were characterized by heightened symptoms of depression and anxiety. Fathers of children and youth treated for relapse reported higher rates of elevated PTSS than fathers of children and youth treated for first-time diagnosis, but mothers' rates were similar. Mothers and fathers reported comparable mean levels of PTSS that were strongly positively correlated with symptoms of anxiety and depression. PTSS and other symptoms of distress were negatively related to education level for fathers. Conclusion: These findings provide additional evidence that mothers and fathers experience substantial PTSS near the time of their child or adolescent's cancer diagnosis during the first 6 months of treatment. Results suggest that PTSS may be part of a broader pattern of emotional distress and that a substantial portion of both mothers and fathers of children and youth with cancer may be in need of supportive mental health services within the first 6 months of their child's diagnosis.

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