Objective: The current study evaluated perceived barriers to care for parents of children with cancer and the mediating effect of illness uncertainty (IU; uncertainty from the ambiguity or unpredictability of the illness) on the relationship between barriers and parental psychological distress. We hypothesized that greater barriers to care would be related to higher levels of IU and, in turn, higher anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress symptom (PTSS) ratings.
Methods: As part of an ongoing study of family adjustment to pediatric cancer, 145 caregivers of children diagnosed with cancer completed questionnaires assessing barriers to care, parent IU, and anxious symptoms, depressive symptoms, and PTSS. Time since cancer diagnosis ranged from 1 to 12 months.
Results: Three mediation models assessed IU as a mediator between barriers to care and anxious symptoms, depressive symptoms, and PTSS, controlling for annual income. IU significantly mediated the relationship between barriers to care and depressive symptoms (B = -.03, SE = .02; 95% CI [-.08, -.01]) and to PTSS (B = -.15, SE = .10; 95% CI [-.38, -.03]). The mediation model was not significant for anxious symptoms.
Conclusion: Experiencing barriers to obtaining treatment for their child with cancer is a significant risk factor for symptoms of depression and PTSS among parents. Specifically, greater barriers to care is significantly associated with IU, a well-established precursor to distress in this population. Interventions targeting IU may help ameliorate distress within the context of unmodifiable barriers to care.