Exploring the Relationship Between Parental Mental Health and Parental Perceptions of Infant Vulnerability
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A mismatch in vulnerability perception occurs when parents’ perceptions of their children’s medical vulnerability level differ from children’s objective medical risk status, and such mismatch negatively affects children’s health. The goal of this thesis is to determine how parental perceptions of infant vulnerability compare with objective infant vulnerability status and to identify the role of parental mental health in this relationship. This thesis fills the current gap in vulnerability-related research by elucidating parental perceptions of infant vulnerability across a broad range of infant health (NICU and well-baby nursery infants). Deidentified longitudinal data from the BabySeq Project was utilized for this study. Conducted between May 14, 2015 and May 21, 2019, the BabySeq Project was a randomized controlled trial that aimed to determine the psychosocial impact of newborn genomic sequencing results on families (519 parents of 325 infants). Data collected at 3 months and 10 months after disclosure of sequencing results were the focus of this present study. The data set included information regarding parental anxiety (GAD-7), depression (PHQ-9), perceptions of children’s vulnerability (CVS), and reported medical history of infants. From the data set, two novel variables were developed, including the objective vulnerability score to identify infants’ medical risk status and the Match/Mismatch score to determine parents’ risk for misperceiving their infants’ vulnerability. Parental mental health scores were significant predictors of Match/Mismatch scores and perceived vulnerability, and vice versa, within each timepoint at 3 and 10 months post-disclosure. When controlling for demographic variables, Match/Mismatch scores at 3 months, but not parental mental health at 3 months, longitudinally predicted Match/Mismatch scores at the 10-month timepoint. Additionally, parental mental health at 3 months, but not Match/Mismatch scores at 3 months, longitudinally predicted future parental mental health at the 10-month timepoint. There is a need for health care professionals to identify parents who are at risk for mismatch in infant vulnerability perception. By recognizing such at-risk parents, physicians can subsequently provide resources that will assist parents in better understanding their infant’s objective health status, and physicians can allocate resources to help alleviate parents’ potential mental health severity.