Depression, Stress and Anxiety among Parents of Sons with Disabilities

Margarida Pocinho, Líria Fernandes


Background: The prevention of depression, stress, and anxiety is an enormous concern of the World Health Organization and it has been a topic of research over the last decades. However, studies with families with sons or daughters with disabilities are scarce, which stresses out the need to develop scientific research in this area. It is of paramount importance to understand the impact of having a child with disability, so that effective strategies of action can be delineated. 

Goals: This study aims to assess depression, stress and anxiety of parents with sons or daughters having intellectual deficit, multi-deficiency or autism, considering gender, age of both parents and sons/daughters, as well as education level of the parents.

Methods: With a cross-sectional observational study, data were collected at schools and at special education institutions through self-administered questionnaires. Two different groups of participants were included in the sample: parents of sons/daughters having intellectual deficit, multi-deficiency or autism, and parents of sons/daughters without disability. Participants were recruited according to a random stratified (by sons/daughters’ age and gender) random sampling. The Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS-21) was administered to both groups of parents, with the collaboration of special educations teachers and school psychologists. Data were analysed using SPSS version 21.0. Descriptive and parametric inferential statistic (t-tests and ANOVA) were performed. Effect sizes based on differences between means were also calculated. 

Results: Overall, 871 participants were enrolled in the study: 403 parents (227 mothers and 176 fathers; 21 to 81 years old, M = 45) of sons/daughters having a disability, and 468 parents (242 mothers and 226 fathers; 25 to 79 years old, M = 43)) of sons/daughters without disabilities. Most of the children had intellectual disabilities (n = 206), followed by autism (n = 143) and multi-deficiency (n = 52). Parents with children/youth with disabilities showed higher levels of anxiety, depression and stress than the other parents. Levels of anxiety, depression and stress are associated with disabled sons/daughters’ age (higher levels associated to older ages) and negatively with parent’s education level (higher levels associated to lower education). 

Discussion: These results highlight the need to more deeply reflect about the necessity of designing intervention programs targeting the development of coping strategies to prevent or minimize parent’s anxiety, depression and stress. This type of intervention is of key importance to capacitate families to cope with these adverse conditions, thus promoting the mental health and psychological wellbeing of parents and disabled children. 

Keywords: Depression, Stress, Anxiety, Children, Disability.


Depression, Stress, Anxiety, Children, Disability

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