The association of illness perceptions with depressive symptoms and general psychological distress in parents of an offspring with autism spectrum disorder

Dimitra Gatzoyia, M.Sc., Konstantinos Kotsis, M.D., Ph.D., Iouliani Koullourou, M.D., M.Sc., Panagiota Goulia, M.D., André F. Carvalho, M.D., Ph.D., Spyros Soulis, Ph.D., Thomas Hyphantis, M.D., Ph.D.

Disability and Health Journal, Vol. 7, Issue 2, p173–180
Published online: November 11, 2013


Raising a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a severe stressor and parents often present high levels of depression. Depression is associated with illness perceptions but this association has not been studied in parents of ASD offspring.


We aimed to assess the prevalence of psychological distress symptoms and their associations with illness perceptions in parents with an ASD offspring.


In 111 parents of ASD offspring we assessed depressive symptoms (PHQ-9), illness perceptions (B-IPQ) and general psychological distress (GHQ-28). Multiple linear and logistic regressions were used to assess their independent associations.


The prevalence of parental clinically significant depressive symptoms was 34.2%, while 55% presented clinically significant levels of general psychological distress. Younger parents and those with lower financial resources had greater psychological distress and more severe depressive symptoms. Parents felt that the condition impacted their lives and believed it would be chronic. Their beliefs about the consequences and the chronicity of the disorder were significant independent correlates of their psychological distress and depressive symptoms severity.


These findings indicate that a remarkable proportion of parents with an ASD offspring present clinically significant depressive symptoms, which were associated with illness perceptions relevant to the consequences and the chronicity of the disorder. Our data encourage psychotherapeutic interventions aiming to support parents to deal with the consequences and chronicity of their offspring’s disorder, in order to reduce parental psychological distress.