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Gallegos researches how mindfulness can benefit parents of children with a chronic illness

Headshot of Cara Gallegos smiling.
Cara Gallegos studies pediatric critical and chronic illness

Cara Gallegos, an associate professor at the School of Nursing, wants to find an intervention to help lower stress and depression in parents of children with complex medical conditions. She’s currently working on a yearlong study to assess whether mindfulness – practiced through a phone app – may be the solution she’s looking for.

This project stems from previous work Gallegos did to evaluate parents’ mental health, stress and coping. Gallegos also mentored Margaret Quatraro, an undergraduate research assistant at the time, on a similar study this past fall. They evaluated if using a mindfulness app could lower the stress and depression levels of college students. The short story? It did.

Gallegos is quick to note that the population she’s studying is different than most, which may yield different results.

Parents of children with medical complexities – like chronic or severe illnesses, functional limitations and substantial health service needs – tend to have higher levels of stress and depression than most people. Not only are they juggling parenting, but many times their homes become mini intensive care units as they care for their child’s complex health needs.

Hers may be the first study considering the effects of mindfulness on this population, but Gallegos’ work has significant impact on the wider community. There are about 3,000 families in Idaho with at least one child with medical complexities; research estimates that 60% of these parents have depression.

“If you think of the effects of parents with depression – on both medically complex and healthy children in the family – there are huge implications there,” Gallegos said. Children who have a parent with a mental health issue are more likely to experience worse physical and emotional health themselves.

Gallegos received funding for the study from the Mountain West Clinical & Translational Research Infrastructure Network program. This is a pipeline program that designates funds from the National Institutes of Health specifically for smaller research schools in the mountain west region, like Boise State.

Participants in the study will receive access to a mindfulness app and be asked to use it four times a week for ten minutes each time. Gallegos hopes this will be a time- and cost-effective intervention to help improve parents’ overall mental health.

Recruitment for the study started in January and is ongoing. Parents of a child with medical complexities who are interested in participating in the study can contact