Parents of terror victims. A longitudinal study of parental mental health following the 2011 terrorist attack on Utøya Island

Little is known about parents' health following their children's exposure to trauma.

Abstract

Background and aims: Little is known about parents' health following their children's exposure to trauma. We investigated the mental health of parents of young terrorist survivors and assessed parental distress and guilt as potential predictors of mental health.

Method: Mothers and fathers (N = 531) participated in two study waves 4–5 and 14–15 months after the shooting. Posttraumatic stress reactions (PTSS) and anxiety/depression were compared with age- and gender-adjusted expected scores that were calculated from a concurrent population study. Mixed effects models investigated the associations between parental distress, parental guilt, and mental health.

Results: Parents' level of anxiety/depression was three times higher and PTSS was five times higher than that of the general population. Parental distress and guilt about their child's traumatic experience contributed uniquely to symptoms at both time points.

Conclusions: Parents of traumatized youth constitute a vulnerable group that has been overlooked in the literature. Intervention strategies following trauma should include both survivors and their parents.

Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 2016, 38, 47-54

Published Apr. 18, 2016 7:15 AM