Changes in parents' psychotropic medication use following child's cancer diagnosis: a fixed‐effects register‐study in Finland

Metsä-Simola, N., Remes, H. M., Hiltunen, E. M., Martikainen, P.
Cancer Medicine, 11:16, 3145–3155 (2022)
Open Access


Background: Symptoms of depression and anxiety are elevated among parents of children with cancer. However, knowledge of parents' psychotropic medication use following child's cancer diagnosis is scarce.
Methods: We use longitudinal Finnish register data on 3266 mothers and 2687 fathers whose child (aged 0–19) was diagnosed with cancer during 2000–2016. We record mothers' and fathers' psychotropic medication use (at least one annual purchase of anxiolytics, hypnotics, sedatives, or antidepressants) 5 years before and after the child's diagnosis and assess within-individual changes in medication use by time since diagnosis, cancer type, child's age, presence of siblings, and parent's living arrangements and education using linear probability models with the individual fixed-effects estimator. The fixed-effects models compare each parent's annual probability of psychotropic medication use after diagnosis to their annual probability of medication use during the 5-year period before the diagnosis.
Results: Psychotropic medication use was more common among mothers than fathers already before the child's diagnosis, 11.2% versus 7.3%. Immediately after diagnosis, psychotropic medication use increased by 6.0 (95% CI 4.8–7.2) percentage points among mothers and by 3.2 (CI 2.1–4.2) percentage points among fathers. Among fathers, medication use returned to pre-diagnosis level by the second year, except among those whose child was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia or lymphoblastic lymphoma. Among mothers of children with a central nervous system cancer, medication use remained persistently elevated during the 5-year follow-up. For mothers with other under-aged children or whose diagnosed child was younger than 10 years, the return to pre-diagnosis level was also slow.
Conclusions: Having a child with cancer clearly increases parents' psychotropic medication use. The increase is smaller and more short-lived among fathers, but among mothers its duration depends on both cancer type and family characteristics. Our results suggest that an increased care burden poses particular strain to the long-term mental well-being of mothers.

Das Max-Planck-Institut für demografische Forschung (MPIDR) in Rostock ist eines der international führenden Zentren für Bevölkerungswissenschaft. Es gehört zur Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, einer der weltweit renommiertesten Forschungsgemeinschaften.