Mental health services for parents who lost a child to cancer: if we build them, will they come?

Wendy G Lichtenthal, Geoffrey W Corner, Corinne R Sweeney, Lori Wiener, Kailey E Roberts, Raymond Baser, Yuelin Li, William S Breitbart, David Kissane, Holly Gwen Prigerson

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78 Citations (Scopus)


To examine bereavement mental health service use, barriers to use, and factors associated with use in parents bereaved by cancer. PATIENTS AND METHODS: A multicenter, cross-sectional study of 120 parents bereaved by cancer between 6 months and 6 years after their loss was performed. Parents completed self-report assessments of mental health service use and barriers, prolonged grief, depression, anxiety, attachment styles, and sense of meaning by phone, in person, or on their own. RESULTS: Forty-one percent of bereaved parents were currently using mental health services (talk therapy, psychotropic medication, and/or a support group), most commonly within the first 2 years after their loss. Talk therapy was the most frequently used service, although 36 of parents who discontinued therapy did so because it was not helpful. Forty percent of parents who wanted bereavement support reported they were not receiving services. The most common barriers to service use were that it was too painful to speak about the loss (64 ) and too difficult to find help (60 ). Factors associated with current mental health service use included more recent loss, prior mental health service use, subclinical/increased depression, insecure attachment styles, and a decreased sense of meaning. Minority parents were more likely to have unmet needs than nonminority parents. CONCLUSION: Parents appear to need, want, and often access bereavement mental health services, which could be offered in oncology settings. However, barriers to service use must be addressed, particularly for those with more debilitating grief symptoms and for minorities. High treatment dropout rates suggest the importance of improving retention, training providers, and developing effective grief interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2246 - 2253
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Clinical Oncology
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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