How Your Child’s Heart Defect Can Impact Your Mental Health

girl with teddy bear and doctor

According to a recent study published in the Journal of American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease in children increases the risk of stress disorders in their parents. The study singles out parents of children with critical congenital heart defects which require at least one surgery.

Based on a review of published data from 10 countries, the study’s authors say it proves there is an urgent need for further research in order to understand the long-term effects of to the mental health of the family over time. Developing better methods of measuring and treating mental health problems during a child’s heart treatment are also pointed out as important.

How Often Do Parents Experience Mental Health Issues?

The study found that up to 30 percent of parents of children with critical cardiovascular disease experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Of those, 80 percent showed significant symptoms of trauma.

Between 25 and 50 percent of parents of children with critical heart disease reported feelings of depression and anxiety. At least 30 percent reported severe psychological distress.

Study authors point to the need for an integrated approach when treating cardiovascular disease in children that recognizes and provides psychological support for parents.

More Research Is Needed

Sarah Woolf-King, Ph.D. and lead author of the study wrote “the findings suggest that mothers are at greater mental health risk than fathers, but the sources of this risk are not known.” The data shows that further research needs to be conducted to understand how cardiovascular disease in children affects mothers and fathers and different ways.

She also points to a need to better understand the contributing predispositions and environmental factors which may contribute to uncertain results in the length and severity of mental health issues in parents of children with a critical heart defect.