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Psychological distress and styles of coping in parents of children awaiting elective cardiac surgery

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 August 2008

Elisabeth M. Utens*
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus Medical Centre Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Herma J. Versluis-Den Bieman
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus Medical Centre Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Frank C. Verhulst
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus Medical Centre Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Maarten Witsenburg
Department of Paediatric CardiologyErasmus Medical Centre Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Ad J.J.C. Bogers
Department of Surgery Cardiothoracic Surgety, Erasmus Medical Centre Rotterdam, the Netherlands
John Hess
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus Medical Centre Rotterdam, the Netherlands Medizinsiche Herzzentrurn München, Germany
E.M. Utens, Ph.D., Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Sophia Children's Hospital, Dr. Molewaterplein 60, 3015 GJ Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Tel: +31–10–4636363; Fax: +31–10–4636803; E-mail:



We sought to assess the level of psychological distress, and the styles of coping of, parents of children with congenital heart disease. The study was based on questionnaires, which were completed, on average, four weeks, with a range from 0.1 to 22.1 weeks, prior to elective cardiac surgery or elective catheter intervention.


We used the General Health Questionnaire, and the Utrecht Coping List, to compare scores from parents of those undergoing surgery, with scores of reference groups, and with scores of the parents of those undergoing intervention.


Overall, in comparison with our reference groups, the parents of the 75 children un dergoing surgery showed elevated levels of psychological distress, manifested as anxiety, sleeplessness, and social dysfunctioning. They also demonstrated less adequate styles of coping, being, for example, less active in solving problems. With only one exception, no differences were demonstrated in parental reactions to whether cardiac surgery or catheter intervention had been planned. The mothers of the 68 patients who were to undergo cardiac surgery, however, reported greater psychological distress and manifested greater problems with coping than did the fathers.


Elevated levels of psychological distress, and less adequate styles of coping, were found in the parents of patients about to undergo cardiac surgery, especially the mothers, when compared to reference groups. Future research should investigate whether these difficulties persist, and whether this will influence the emotional development of their children with congenital cardiac malformations.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2000

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