Parents of Injured Children at Risk for Stress Disorder

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"Putting the kids first" is a well-known mantra that any parent can identify with. And when a child becomes sick or injured, it might seem practical, even essential, for a parent to put aside their own anxious feelings in order to comfort a distressed child. But what if it's the parent's emotional distress that becomes the problem?

According to The Globe and Mail, a recent study has revealed that more than one in three parents suffer symptoms of acute stress disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder after their child is injured. The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia studied 334 parents of children treated at the hospital for traffic injuries over 28 months. They found that in the first month after their child's injury, 12 percent of the parents were diagnosed with ASD and 25 percent with partial-ASD. When 251members of the group were tested six months later, 8 percent were diagnosed with PTSD and 7 percent had partial-PTSD.

The parents suffering from ASD and PTSD symptoms had nightmares and persistent thoughts about the event, including physical reactions like headaches. They felt anxious, jumpy, irritable and had trouble focusing and sleeping.

Dr. Ariel Dalfen is a psychiatrist at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital specializing in postpartum depression, and the author of When Baby Brings The Blues. She says post-traumatic stress disorder in parents is an important topic. She sees these issues in parents of premature infants who suffer from health problems which require them to remain in hospital.

"It's a big problem," she says. "I see parents all the time who are so anxious and depressed, wracked with guilt about what they might have done that might have caused this, and worrying that they should have done something differently. I've definitely seen women who have had post-traumatic stress disorder from a bad delivery that's resulted in a baby being sick."

Dalfen says that feelings of guilt or anxiety can be normal in the short term, but it's important to recognize the signs of a more serious problem. "If you are feeling very burnt out, irritable or depressed, if you can't stop thinking about guilty feelings, or if you are having physical manifestations of stress, like not being able to sleep or eat, you need to pay attention to that," she says. "If your child in still in the hospital, make sure you take breaks, that you get enough sleep, that you have support and someone you can talk to."

And if it seems like these issues are spinning out of control, parents should seek professional help through their family doctor, says Dalfen. "It can affect their mood and their ability to sleep and be extremely debilitating."

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