Worsening Symptoms of Anxiety, Depression, and Sleep Problems in Caregivers Following Youth’s Suicide-Related Emergency Department Visit

Smith, T., Magness, C., Arango, A., Finkelstein, S., Kahsay, E., Czyz, E., Hong, V., Kettley, J., Smith, P. K., & Ewell Foster, C. 


Objective: Although families assume considerable responsibility in caring for their child after a suicidal crisis, little is known about caregiver well-being following a suicide-related pediatric Emergency Department (ED) visit. This study aimed to (1) describe the course of caregiver distress symptoms (e.g., anxiety, depression, and negative affect) and sleep problems following their child’s suicide-related ED visit and to (2) identify factors (e.g., parents’ mental health history, youth suicide risk chronicity, and perception of feeling supported by the mental health system) hypothesized to be related to caregiver distress symptoms and sleep problems at follow-up using a diathesis-stress model framework.

Method: Participants included 118 caregiver/youth (ages 11-17) dyads presenting to a psychiatric ED due to youths’ suicide-related concerns. Caregivers and youth were assessed during index ED visit and 2-weeks following discharge.

Results: Caregivers’ anxiety and depressive symptoms and sleep problems increased significantly from the time of the ED visit to 2-week follow-up. There was no significant change in caregiver negative affect. Caregivers with their own history of mental illness and those whose children had a previous ED visit due to a psychiatric concern, suggestive of chronic suicide risk, reported higher anxiety and depressive symptoms at follow-up.

Conclusion: In the 2 weeks following an ED visit for their child’s suicidal crisis, caregivers reported significant increases in anxiety and depressive symptoms and sleep problems. Findings highlight the need to consider the mental health of caregivers whose children are at elevated risk for suicide.HighlightsCaregivers report increases in distress symptoms following youth’s suicidal crisis.Caregiver mental health history and youth suicide chronicity impacted distress.Caregiver mental health should be considered when planning youth interventions.

Keywords: Caregivers; emergency department; parents; suicide; youth.