Parents of children recently diagnosed with cancer can experience severe psychosocial distress. Experiential avoidance has been defined as the tendency to avoid or escape from certain private experiences (e.g., thoughts, feelings, memories) or contexts that elicit them (Hayes et al., 1996). This construct has been shown to be linked to distress in several populations and has received increased interest as a target for intervention. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between traumatic stress, experiential avoidance, and depression in parents of children recently diagnosed with cancer. It was hypothesized that experiential avoidance would account for the relationship between traumatic stress and depression.
48 parents (33 mothers and 15 fathers) of children recently diagnosed with cancer and who participated in the screening/pre-assessment of a RCT of a psychosocial intervention were included in the current cross-sectional study. The mean (SD) of months since the child’s diagnosis was 3.5 (1.8). Parents provided self-report of demographic characteristics, general anxiety, traumatic stress, experiential avoidance, and depression.
Hierarchical regression was used with depression as dependent variable. In step 1 demographic variables and general anxiety was entered (∆R2 = .57, p < .001). In step 2 traumatic stress was added resulting in a significant increase in explained variance (∆R2 = .04, p < .05, β for traumatic stress = 0.39, p < .05). In step 3 experiential avoidance was added resulting in a significant increase in explained variance (∆R2 = .06, p < .05, β for experiential avoidance = 0.35, p < .05). Furthermore, traumatic stress was no longer a significant predictor of depression (β = 0.15, p = 40). Total R2 in the final model was .68. Mediation analysis (Preacher & Hayes, 2008) confirmed a significant indirect effect from traumatic stress to depression via experiential avoidance (estimate = 0.21, bootstrap 95% CI = 0.03-0.38).
The current results suggest that experiential avoidance accounts for the relationship between traumatic stress and depression in parents of children recently diagnosed with cancer. Experiential avoidance could be a potential target in psychosocial interventions for this group.