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Sudden Loss of Parent Tied to Depression in Child

Mental health disorders also more common in surviving caregivers

FRIDAY, May 8 (HealthDay News) -- Children who lose a parent due to suicide or other unexpected sudden death are at an increased risk for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to an article published in the May issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Nadine M. Melhem, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and colleagues investigated the psychiatric antecedents associated with early parental death and the psychological sequelae of bereavement for children and their caregivers. They interviewed 140 families with biologic offspring aged 7 to 25 years in which one parent had died of suicide, accident or sudden natural death, who had been recruited using coroner records and advertisement, and compared their responses to those of 99 control families recruited by random-digit dialing and advertisement.

The researchers found that bipolar disorder, substance abuse and personality disorders were more common in parents who died by suicide or accident than in control parents. Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder were more common in bereaved offspring and their caregivers compared to controls, they report. Bereaved offspring had triple the risk of depression, even after controlling for antecedent and other risk factors.

"Better integration of medical and psychiatric care may prevent premature parental death, but once it occurs, physicians should be alert to the increased risk for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in bereaved offspring and their caregivers," the authors conclude.

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