Daily stress and cortisol patterns in parents of adult children with a serious mental illness

Erin T. Barker, Jan S. Greenberg, Marsha Mailick Seltzer, David M. Almeida

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

39 Scopus citations


Objective: The goal of the current study was to examine whether parenting an adult child with a serious mental illness (SMI) has a physiological impact on parents. Method: Multiple samples of saliva were collected on 4 days from 61 parents (mean age = 60.07 years, SD = 10.01) of individuals with a SMI (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depression; mean age = 32.46 years, SD = 10.57) and a comparison group of 321 parents (mean age = 58.09 years, SD = 12.88) of individuals without a SMI (mean age = 32.36; SD = 13.87). Saliva samples were assayed for the hormone cortisol and group differences in diurnal cortisol patterns and their association with daily stress severity were explored. Results: On days after elevated stress, a hypoactivation pattern of diurnal cortisol suggestive of chronic stress was evident for parents of individuals with a SMI. After more stressful days, cortisol levels increased less from waking to 30 min after waking and declined less from 30 min after waking to bedtime for parents of individuals with a SMI. Conclusions: The results of the current study add to a growing body of evidence that the long-term effects of parenting an adult with a disability has a biological impact on aging parents and support the need for family interventions across adulthood and into old age for parents of individuals with SMI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-134
Number of pages5
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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