Do Circumstances of the Death Matter? Identifying Socioenvironmental Risks for Grief-Related Psychopathology in Bereaved Youth


We examined bereaved children's and surviving caregivers' psychological responses following the death of the other caregiver as a function of the stated cause of death. Participants included 63 parentally bereaved children and 38 surviving caregivers who were assessed using self-report instruments and in-person interviews. Surviving caregivers reported the causes of death as resulting from sudden natural death (34.9%), illness (33.3%), accident (17.5%), and suicide (14.3%). Results revealed differences between caregiver-reported versus child-reported cause of death, particularly in cases of suicide. Children who lost a caregiver due to a prolonged illness exhibited higher levels of both maladaptive grief (d = 3.13) and posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS; d = 3.33) when compared to children who lost a caregiver due to sudden natural death (e.g., heart attack). In contrast, surviving caregivers did not differ in their levels of maladaptive grief and PTSS as a function of the cause of death; however, caregivers bereaved by sudden natural death reported higher levels of depression than those bereaved by prolonged illness (d = 1.36). Limited sample size prevented analysis of outcomes among those bereaved by suicide or accident. These findings suggest that anticipated deaths may contain etiologic risk factors for maladaptive grief and PTSS in children. Copyright © 2014 International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

Publication Title

Journal of Traumatic Stress