Can Type 1 Diabetes Parents have PTSD? The Stress of a Newly Diagnosed Child with Type 1 Diabetes

Can parents of children with diabetes actually have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or other effects from the trauma from a diagnosis? I understand if they do! Having a child diagnosed is very shocking, scary, and overwhelming. Plus, most of the feelings don’t go away.

There is always fear and worry due to the nature of the disease, dealing with low and high blood sugars, DKA, and the various medical decisions of dosing insulin parents have to make on a daily and sometimes hourly basis.

Frequently at diagnosis, parents are confronted with the threatened death of their child in an ICU. After their child is stable, parents have to deal with all the aspects of diabetes management, along with knowing the possibility of long term complications and possibility of death.

Along with those, everyday they are confronted with giving their child injections and doing finger sticks which can be traumatic to both the parent and the child.

According to the study literature, parents of children with diabetes have signs of moderate to high distress in the first months after diagnosis, which seems normal to me! Who wouldn’t feel distress after a diagnosis!

The Journal of Pediatric Psychology published a study in 2002 by Landolt, Ribi, Laimbacher, Vollgrath, Gnehm, and Sennhauser which  studied the parents of newly diagnosed kids (ages 6.5 to 14) to see  the traumatizing effect of a new diabetes diagnosis. The study was small (38 participants) but gave valuable information about the effects of a diagnosis.

PTSD symptoms are listed in the DSM-V, which is a manual of psychiatric disorders that mental health professionals use to diagnose mental health conditions. Each diagnosis lists symptoms that the person may have. In order to qualify for the diagnosis the client must meet certain standard symptoms.

Out of 38 families, 24% or 9 of the mothers and 22% or 8 of the fathers met full diagnostic criteria for PTSD. Only 2 of the families showed both parents having PTSD. Also 51.4% or 19 addition mothers and 41.7% or 15 fathers met criteria for partial PTSD. In 7 families both parents had partial PTSD at the same time. At least one parent in 27 families or 71% showed partial PTSD. 

Though this is a small study in Switzerland, the results show the stress that parents with a newly diagnosed child experience. So if you are feeling very stressed, you are not alone!

This study highlights the fact that caring for a child with diabetes is stressful.

Identifying the symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, or depression and getting treatment can help improve the care of the child.

Early interventions can improve the quality of life for both the children and the parents.

In a study by Frank, Olmsted, & Wagner in 1991, early counseling interventions in symptomatic parents of children with chronic illnesses had beneficial effects not only on the adjustment of the parents and children, but also the short and long-term course of the illness. So don’t hesitate to get counseling for yourself, it’s not a sign of failure or that you’re crazy!

Learning relaxation techniques is a very useful tool for parents. A study by Guthrie, Sargent, Speelman, and Parksin 1990 showed that when parents learned relaxation techniques, the diabetes control of the child improved.

So, the big takeaway is:

Take Care of Yourself and if you are having trouble, don’t hesitate to get professional help!

A good diabetes team includes a mental health professional. There is nothing to be ashamed about if you need help. Insurance usually covers treatment.

Learn Stress Reducing Techniques!

Here are some different posts I have done in the past on stress reduction, be sure to check them out.

Fill Your Bucket to Decrease Stress

Top Ten Ways to Decrease Stress

Take a Break from Diabetes and Have Fun

Remember, take care of yourself in order to better take care of your child. It’s just like on an airplane, if you have to use the oxygen masks, put one on yourself first or you won’t be able to put one on your child.

Comment below if you agree with these studies. How stressful for you is taking care of a child with diabetes? I know I was super anxious and stressed for over a year.

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Author: Carol

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