Online Support Helps Parents of Children with Cancer Cope with Depression

Communicating with a psychologist via email improved stress and depression symptoms among parents of children with cancer.

Having a child with cancer can be emotionally devastating and stressful for parents, who have to navigate treatment options and financial concerns to ensure their child receives the best care.

Web-based support programs may be able to help parents of children with cancer deal with feelings of depression and post-traumatic stress, according to a study published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Previous findings suggest that numerous parents of children with cancer experience depression and stress. In the new study, the authors found that online support could be beneficial to parents, especially because it allows them to receive help, regardless of their location.

Included in the study were 58 parents of children receiving cancer treatment who were randomized to receive the web-based support or were placed on a waiting list with access to the intervention at a later time.

The intervention was based on cognitive behavior therapy and focused on providing the skills and education to cope with their thoughts and feelings. Therapy was communicated via email by a psychologist.

The therapists discussed what happens during stressful situations and how parents could use various tools to cope with the situations, including relaxation, problem-solving, general self-care, and other strategies, according to the study.

The authors found that patients assigned to the 10-week program had less symptoms of post-traumatic stress and depression compared with control patients, according to the study. These results continued for 12 months.

The authors also found that intervention group patients had lessened scores of depression and anxiety, which were secondary outcomes.

These results suggest that web-based support may maintain lower stress levels, while further reducing depression scores in the 12-month follow-up, according to the study.

“We would like the results to be confirmed by a larger study, but so far the outcomes indicate that this form of support shows promise for parents of children being treated for cancer who regard online support and help as a viable option. In this way, the programme [sic] that has been tested could serve to supplement the support currently offered to these parents,” said researcher Louise von Essen, Clinical Psychology in Healthcare, Uppsala University.

However, the authors did not find that the support reduced health care consumption and sick leave. Additional research is needed to determine whether psychological distress can strain the economic status of families with a child who has cancer, according to the authors.

“Using the Internet to provide psychological interventions may be an effective mode of delivery for parents reporting an increased level of PTSS [post-traumatic stress] and who consider Internet-based interventions as a viable option,” the authors wrote. “Future research should corroborate these findings and also develop and evaluate interventions and policies that may help ameliorate the economic burden that parents may face during their child´s treatment for cancer.”