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Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008 May;162(5):403-10. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.162.5.403.

Antecedents and sequelae of sudden parental death in offspring and surviving caregivers.

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  • 1Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and the Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, USA.



To examine the psychiatric antecedents that put parents at risk for early death, and the psychological sequelae of bereavement in offspring and caregivers.


A population-based study.


Bereaved families were recruited through the coroner's records and by advertisement. Control families were recruited by random-digit dialing and advertisement.


Families with biological offspring from 7 to 25 years of age in which 1 parent died of suicide, accident, or sudden natural death were included (n = 140). Controls (n = 99) had 2 living parents and their biological offspring and had no death of a first-degree relative within the past 2 years.


Lifetime psychiatric history for deceased parents (probands) and new-onset psychiatric disorders, self-reported symptoms, and functional status in offspring and surviving caregivers.


Bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and personality disorders are more common in probands who died of suicide or accident than in control parents. Bereaved offspring and their caregivers were at increased risk for depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. Bereaved offspring had a 3-fold (95% confidence interval, 1.3-7.0) increased risk of depression, even after controlling for antecedent and concomitant risk factors. Offspring bereaved by suicide showed similar outcomes compared with those bereaved by other types of death.


Bereavement conveys an increased risk of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder above and beyond other vulnerability 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 posttraumatic stress disorder in bereaved offspring and their caregivers.

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