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Most kids who lose a parent don't experience lengthy depression

May 17, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Only a small number of children who lose a parent suffer a long-lasting, major depression, research finds.
Only a small number of children who lose a parent suffer a long-lasting,… (Susan Tibbles / For The Times )

HONOLULU — A significant number of children in the U.S. lose a parent to death each year. But a new study shows that, after a normal and expected period of bereavement, most children recover from their grief.

The research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Assn. meeting.

Dr. Laurie B. Gray of the University of Pennsylvania studied children 5 to 18 who suffered the loss of one parent but had a surviving parent. They were compared to children who had not lost a parent to death. All of the children were studied over a period of two years.

Researchers found that about half the children experienced major depressive disorder two months after the death of their parent, and an additional 25% had a milder type of depression. But those numbers dropped by about half over the next few months. By two years after the death, 5% of children who lost a parent had a major depressive disorder and 11% had a milder type of depression.

The death of a parent is always traumatic, especially for children and teenagers. But, Gray said, "depression in bereaved kids decreases. Most bereaved children never meet criteria for major depression, and those who do usually get better. Most of the children exhibited resilience."

Researchers suspected that girls might be more effected by a mother's death and boys by a father's death. But the study didn't show that to be the case. Depression wasn't linked to whether the death was expected or unanticipated, either. However, children from families in which alcohol abuse was a problem were more likely to be depressed after a parent's death.

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