When a child is diagnosed with cancer, or relapses from remission, a parent is more susceptible to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress than when the child is healthy. Because the parent is the one responsible for making critical treatment decisions, the emotional impairment caused by the symptoms may interfere with executive functioning and put those lifesaving decisions at risk. “Therefore, it is important to understand PTSS and other symptoms of distress in parents near the time of a child or adolescent’s diagnosis when parents are making important treatment decisions and helping their children cope,” said Madeleine J. Dunn of Vanderbilt University. Dunn was the lead author of a recent study that examined 195 children between the ages of 5 and 17, with recent occurrences or reoccurrences of cancer. Along with her colleagues, Dunn screened the children’s families for symptoms of PTSD using the Impact of Event Scale-Revised, and evaluated them for anxiety and depression for six months following the onset of the cancer.
The researchers found that 30% of the fathers and 41% of the mothers all showed symptoms of PTSD. But the fathers’ symptoms were more extreme when their children were undergoing treatment for a re-occurrence of a previously treated cancer. Dunn said, “These findings suggest that a substantial portion of families with a child or adolescent being treated for cancer, including both mothers and fathers, may be in need of supportive mental health services within the first 6 months after the child’s diagnosis.” Dunn feels the evidence emphasizes the importance of making available more psychosocial services for parents facing serious illnesses with their children. “Mothers and fathers recruited from the same families reported comparable levels of PTSS, depressive, and anxiety symptoms.” Dunn added, “These results suggest that clinicians should be attentive to the needs of both parents when providing supportive care to families.”
Dunn, M. J., Rodriguez, E. M., Barnwell, A. S., Grossenbacher, J. C., Vannatta, K., Gerhardt, C. A., & Compas, B. E. (2011, September 26). Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms in Parents of Children With Cancer Within Six Months of Diagnosis. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025545
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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