Parent death leads to 40% of surviving kids needing intervention

Parent death leads to 40% of surviving kids needing intervention

The loss of a parent can be devastating for most. However, what is the affect on children that have a parent suddenly pass? Well in the first study of its kind focusing on this very emotional variable, researchers have discovered that 40% of children bereaved by sudden parental death will require intervention to prevent prolonged grief reaction and possible depression. This can lead to a massive drop in quality of life and increase in medical bills over time.

Every year in the United States, 4% of children under the age of 15 experience the death of a parent.

Researchers studied 182 children between ages 7 and 18 whose parent died from suicide, accident or sudden natural deaths. More than 50% of the children were able to cope with their grief within one year of the loss of their parent. However, the course of grief was shown to be more difficult for some children, with 30% showing a more gradual easing of their symptoms and about 10% displaying high and prolonged grief for nearly three years after their parents died. Those children with prolonged grief reaction also showed increased incidents of depression.

Grief is defined as the normal internal feeling one experiences in reaction to a loss, while bereavement is the state of having experienced that loss. Although people often suffer emotional pain in response to loss of anything that is very important to them (for example, a job, a friendship, one's sense of safety, a home), grief usually refers to the loss of a loved one through death.

Nadine M. Melhem, Ph.D., lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychiatry at Pitt explains:

"The death of a parent is consistently rated as one of the most stressful events a child can experience; however, little is known about the course of grief and its effects on children. With our research, we are hoping to gain greater understanding of grief reactions so that we can better design treatments to relieve the burden of grief in bereaved children."

The study also looked at a pre-existing vulnerability in the children that puts them at higher risk for adverse psychiatric outcomes following the death of parents that already suffered from psychiatric disorders themselves.

In addition, it was learned that the well-being of the children's surviving caregivers is a significant predictor of the children's overall well-being. They found that the combination of complicated grief in the surviving parent and in the child were particularly strong in predicting depression in children up to three years after the death.

Melhem concludes:

"These findings have important clinical implications for intervention and prevention efforts. We believe it is imperative to assess the surviving parent and intervene when appropriate to improve the outcome of parentally bereaved children. Treatment of prolonged grief in children may require interventions that are family focused, rather than individually focused. Preventive interventions should target not only the 10% of bereaved children with prolonged grief, but also the 30% with increased grief reactions as they also showed increased incidents of depression."

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Section Issues On Medicine: Psychiatry