Mothers’ and Fathers’ Coping and Psychological Outcomes Post Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Discharge: The Role of Religious and Spiritual Coping

Gina M. Brelsford, Aishwarya Sastry, Kim K. Doheny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research shows that parents of infants admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) tend to experience significant levels of anxiety, stress, and depression. However, few studies have explored the difference between mothers’ and fathers’ use of religious and spiritual (R/S) coping and mental health after the family is discharged from the NICU. Participants were 131 mothers and 53 fathers (N = 184) who completed the COPE Inventory, the Brief RCOPE, the Penn State Worry Questionnaire, the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale—Revised (CESD-R), and the Stanford Acute Stress Reaction Questionnaire. Participants were acquired from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Health Statistics and Studyfinder at a university medical center. Mothers were contacted via regular mail with a survey for the mother and her co-parent/significant other to complete separately. Babies were born on average at 31.65 weeks’ gestation and spent on average 35.10 days in the NICU. Mothers’ mean scores on depression, anxiety, and stress were significantly higher than fathers’ scores. Further, use of negative R/S coping was a salient predictor of depression for fathers even after accounting for secular coping. For mothers, negative R/S coping was related to greater anxiety and stress, while use of positive R/S was linked to lower levels of anxiety after accounting for secular forms of coping. Thus, mothers and fathers may experience stress, anxiety, and depression at different levels following NICU discharge. Their ways of coping with the new reality of having a recently discharged infant can also vary, with important mental health implications. The use of negative R/S coping may have detrimental impacts on these parents’ mental health and family functioning. A family-centered approach that includes psychospiritual dimensions is warranted for better parental outcomes post NICU discharge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPastoral Psychology
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Religious studies
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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