Attachment Insecurity and Depression, Anxiety in Ovarian Cancer Patient Partner-Caregivers

September 24, 2021 12:00 am

The following article is provided by The Clearity Foundation to support women with ovarian cancer and their families. Learn more about The Clearity Foundation and the services we provide directly to women as they make treatment decisions and navigate emotional impacts of their diagnosis.

Woman in bed with a headache

By Jessica Nye, PhD

A cross-sectional study found that caregivers of patients with ovarian cancer were experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety which were affected by attachment avoidance. These findings were published in Current Oncology.

Caregivers are an important component of successful cancer treatment, as they ensure treatment adherence as well as provide much needed emotional support for patients. To assess the impacts on mental health due to caregiving, 82 partner-caregivers of patients with ovarian cancer were recruited between 2017 and 2019 through Ovarian Cancer Canada. Participants were assessed for demographics, experiences while caregiving, depression, anxiety, and attachment insecurity (conceptualized as attachment anxiety, related to a negative view of self, fear of rejection, and beliefs of being unworthy of care, and attachment avoidance, related to a negative view of others, avoidance of dependence on others, and avoidance of intimacy).

Caregivers were 97.5% men, mean age 57.2±12.1 years, 89.9% were White, and 91.5% were English-speaking. The length of their relationship was an average 28.5±14.8 years. Their partners had stage I (13.2%), stage II (11.8%), stage III (53.9%), or stage IV (21.1%) ovarian cancer.

Clinical and subclinical levels of depression were reported by 8.5% and 23.2% of participants, respectively, and anxiety by 23% and 20.7%, respectively. The majority of caregivers (90.2%) had elevated attachment avoidance.

Attachment insecurity explained the majority of the variance in depression (65.1%; F[7,73], 19.4; P <.001) and nearly half of the variance for anxiety (49.8%; F[9,70], 7.7; P <.001). The other significant contributor to symptoms of depression and anxiety was lack of time for social interactions.

This study may not be generalizable, as the majority of caregivers were White men from higher socioeconomic class with high levels of education.

These data indicated that many caregivers of patients with ovarian cancer were experiencing depression and anxiety that were significantly affected by attachment insecurity. As caregivers play an integral role in cancer care, there is a need to recognize and address mental health problems faced by cancer caregivers.

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