Parents of children with severe heart defects may be at risk for PTSD

According to research carried out in Journal of the American Heart Associationthe open access journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

Health professionals know that mental health problems in parents can lead to long-term cognitive, health and behavioral problems in their children. The researchers looked at published data from 10 countries. Among parents of children with critical congenital heart defects, researchers found:

  • Up to 30% had symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of PTSD, and more than 80% had significant symptoms of trauma;
  • 25-50% reported high symptoms of depression, anxiety or both; and
  • 30-80% reported experiencing severe psychological distress;
  • By comparison, the prevalence of PTSD in the general US population is 3.5%, with 18% meeting criteria for any anxiety disorder in the past year and 9.5% meeting criteria for any anxiety disorder. ‘mood.

The researchers say the study is a first step in bringing more attention to this neglected group of parents whose mental health is often tested by coping with their children’s medical appointments, heart procedures, long hospital stays, digestive or dietary problems and increased risk of major respiratory illnesses. – all of which represent considerable financial, emotional and family costs.

For these parents, “there is a real need for more research on the severity, course, and persistence of mental health problems over time,” said Sarah Woolf-King, Ph.D., MPH, lead author of study and assistant professor in the psychology department at Syracuse University in New York.

She notes that these issues, if left untreated, can negatively affect parents and their ability to care for their children months or even years after surgery.

“Parents need additional support and achievable and accessible mental health treatment,” said Woolf-King, “and we propose in particular to integrate mental health screening and treatment into care. pediatric cardiology The healthcare providers on the front line of treatment for these parents could play an important role in connecting them to care.”

This type of integrated care model is more common in other medical disciplines, Woolf-King said, citing pediatric oncology as an example in which recommendations have been established as part of standard care to assess mental health in a more routine and over time for parents of children with cancer. .

Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defects in the United States, affecting nearly 40,000 births each year. Of those children, 25% have critical congenital heart defects, requiring one or more heart surgeries in the first year of life, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Woolf-King has a direct understanding of this experience as a parent. Her son, now 4, was born with a congenital heart defect and underwent open-heart surgery when he was 9 weeks old. “It was one of the loneliest and most terrifying times of my life,” she said, and it contributed to her interest in this research topic.

The study noted that mothers are disproportionately affected. “We don’t know 100% why,” Woolf-King said, “but we think it has to do with, first, the first surgery usually occurs in the postpartum period, when mothers are already at risk increased mental health problems and, secondly, the care of the sick child may fall disproportionately on the mother.”

The review covered 30 studies drawn from cardiac, nursing, pediatric, and social science journals published between 1984 and 2015 in the United States, Australia, Switzerland, Norway, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Canada, in China, Finland and Italy.