Parents of children with cerebral palsy are more likely to experience mental illness, a review paper suggests — but there is relatively little data available, and more studies are necessary.
Titled “Prevalence of depression, anxiety, and substance-related disorders in parents of children with cerebral palsy: a systematic review,” the paper was published in the journal Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology.
Caring for a child with a serious medical condition, like cerebral palsy (CP), can take a serious toll on a parent’s mental health. This is, obviously, a problem for the parents themselves. But it may also put strain on a family collectively.
The investigators wanted to figure out how common it is for parents of children with CP to have mental health disorders — specifically depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders.
After conducting a review of the available scientific literature, the team identified 14 relevant studies that included data for 1,264 mothers and 105 fathers of children with cerebral palsy.
In general, the studies supported the idea that anxiety and depression are common among parents of children with CP. Some studies suggested that having a child with more severe illness, and having a lower socioeconomic status were risk factors for these mental health problems, but these associations weren’t statistically significant in all studies. The research also found that the more time spent on child care, the higher the risk of mental illness among mothers of children with cerebral palsy.
In particular, three studies compared rates of depression among a total of 182 mothers of children with CP, and 207 mothers of typically developing children. The rate of depression among mothers of children with CP was significantly higher (52.74% vs. 20.77%).
However, there were problems with this analysis. Most notably, many studies used different means of assessing mental illness, ranging from verified depression scores to more general assessments of quality of life and stress. Some studies also had “a lack of clear information in the methods sections” — which makes it hard to know if the results of any two studies can be reliably compared.
In addition, many variables that might be important weren’t assessed in any of the identified studies. Only one study compared rates of mental illnesses in fathers versus mothers — finding no statistically significant difference. Few of the studies even recorded marital status. Those that did found no significant differences in terms of mental illness. Notably, none of the studies examined LGBTIQA+ parenting.
Furthermore, none of the studies had data on rates of mental illness in parents prior to having children, making it hard to say with any certainty whether having a child with CP affects these rates.
None of the studies provided information about what mental health treatments and support parents had access to or were using, and none of the studies addressed substance abuse in parents of children with CP.
Overall, this review reaffirms the need for good mental health support for parents of children with CP, or indeed any serious medical condition. But the paper also highlights the need for more research on mental health among such parents.
“Data indicate that the mental health status of parents of children with CP continues to be neglected,” the researchers said.
“It is extremely important to assess the mental health of parents of children with CP, promoting early intervention and stimulating education programmes. Since the parent’s mental health condition may positively or negatively affect the family’s involvement in rehabilitation strategies, the investigation of mental disorders in this population is essential,” they concluded.