Psychiatric Symptoms in Bereaved Versus Non-bereaved Youth and Young Adults: A Longitudinal Epidemiological Study.

Publication Date

Fall 11-1-2010


Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry







Published Open-Access



Adolescent, Behavioral Symptoms, Bereavement, Child, Death, Family, Family Characteristics, Female, Humans, Interview, Psychological, Longitudinal Studies, Male, Risk Factors, Social Environment, Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic, Substance-Related Disorders, Young Adult


OBJECTIVE: To examine potential differences in psychiatric symptoms between parent-bereaved youth (N = 172), youth who experienced the death of another relative (N = 815), and nonbereaved youth (N = 235), aged 11 to 21 years, above and beyond antecedent environmental and individual risk factors.

METHOD: Sociodemographics, family composition, and family functioning were assessed one interview wave before the death. Child psychiatric symptoms were assessed during the wave in which the death was reported and one wave before and after the death. A year was selected randomly for the nonbereaved group.

RESULTS: The early loss of a parent was associated with poverty, previous substance abuse problems, and greater functional impairment before the loss. Both bereaved groups of children were more likely than nonbereaved children to show symptoms of separation anxiety and depression during the wave of the death, controlling for sociodemographic factors and prior psychiatric symptoms. One wave following the loss, bereaved children were more likely than nonbereaved children to exhibit symptoms of conduct disorder and substance abuse and to show greater functional impairment.

CONCLUSIONS: The impact of parental death on children must be considered in the context of pre-existing risk factors. Even after controlling for antecedent risk factors, both parent-bereaved children as well as those who lost other relatives were at increased risk for psychological and behavioral health problems.