Racial/ethnic differences in stress, coping, and distress among mothers with a child in the icu

Mary E. Ernst, Jessica Williams, Brian E. McCabe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Having a child in the intensive care unit (ICU) is a stressful event that can cause negative mental health outcomes for parents, but little is known about the experience of parental stress among members of racial/ethnic minority groups. Objective To examine the stress and coping process in a racially/ethnically diverse sample of mothers of a child who was acutely admitted to an ICU. Methods Participants (N = 103) completed a cross-sectional self-report survey; 86.4% completed it within a week of their child’s ICU admission. Analysis of variance was used to examine racial/ethnic differences in perceived ICU-related stressors, coping behaviors, and distress level. Linear regression was used to examine the moderating effects of race/ethnicity on the relationships between stressors, coping behaviors, and distress. Results Mothers across racial group experienced simi-lar stressors during the acute phase of their child’s ICU admission. African American mothers reported greater overall use of coping behaviors, particularly avoidance coping, and experienced higher levels of distress than did Hispanic or non-Hispanic White mothers. Hispanic mothers experienced the least distress. The interaction of race/ethnicity and emotion-focused coping moder-ated the stress and coping process. Conclusions Racial and ethnic diversity in sampling should be a priority in future studies of the stress and coping process of mothers with a child in an ICU. Critical care nurses should minimize known stressors for these mothers and encourage and support their preferred coping behaviors, recognizing that these may differ across racial/ethnic groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)275-284
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Critical Care
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care


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