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  1. 1. Death of a parent and its negative effects on 1a child How does the sudden death of a parent negatively affect a child? Romane Marraccini University of San Francisco
  2. 2. Death of a parent and its negative effects on 2a child A death of a parent is one of the most stressful times for someone, especially achild. The child has to quickly mature and learn to become more independent with theabsence of their parent. Children cope with their loss differently. Depression is one of themost common psychological problems following this traumatic event. Many differentresearchers have studied different experiences feelings that a child encounters. Childrenencounter feelings of being alone despite all of their family and friend support. Otherstudies have shown how depressed children become or develop psychiatric disorders laterin life. In this literature review, I will describe four articles and that a sudden death of aparent negatively affects a child. Researchers Gray, Weller, Fristad and Weller (2011) studied the depressivesymptoms in adolescents and young children two months immediately after their parent’sdeath. Their aim was to determine if bereaved children had higher depressive symptomsand depressive episodes versus a community control group. Risk factors for thedepressive symptoms after the death of a parent was also researched. Through a list ofnames from obituaries and funeral homes, researchers gathered 325 children ranging inages from five to 18 years old. These children were compared to non-bereavedcommunity controls and non-bereaved depressed controls. Children in the communitycontrol did not lose a parent. There were 129 children recruited from schools, communitygroups and churches. For the depressed control, there were 110 children. All three groupsdemographics similarly matched in that a majority of the children were ten10 to eleven11 years old, Caucasian and male. The researchers proceeded to measure depression in the participants. First, theresearchers used the Diagnostic Interview for Children and Adolescent Revised to assess
  3. 3. Death of a parent and its negative effects on 3a childdepression. The participants made provided self-reports through the Children’sDepression Inventory, which measured the severity of depression in the children. ThePsychiatric Diagnostic Interview collected the parents and the child’s personal psychiatrichistory. Researchers analyzed all the data twice. The first analysis included all threegroups of children. The second analysis included only one child from each group. Withall the information that the researchers collected, they created a table. The children who had lost their parent were more likely to have a depressionepisode compared to the community control group, but were surprisingly less likely thanthe depressed control group . In all the depressive symptoms shown on the table, Tthedepressed control group had the highest percentage out of the three groups. The mostcommon symptoms for the three groups were dysphoria, guilt and sleep changes.Dysphoria is when a type of person has intense depression seen in people who areand isdiscontent about him or herself. About one fourth of the bereaved children had three tofour depressive symptoms following the death of their parent. The loss of a parent causesdepressive symptoms and episodes in their child following their death. This study was very useful but it was not descriptive in its methods of interview.It did not state say what the type of questions they asked their participants and it did notdescribe any other negative feelings other than depression. For future studies, I wouldlike to study more about coping methods to help cure the depression that the child faces.Also, more longitudinal studies should be set up to see how long the depression has lastedand if it has turned into a more serious psychological problem. Researchers Melhem, Walker, Moritz, and Brent (2008) studied the psychologicaloutcomes that children experience after a parent’s death. As described by Gray, Wellers,
  4. 4. Death of a parent and its negative effects on 4a childFristad and Weller (2011), children show symptoms of depression and grief immediatelyafter their parent’s death. Males are also more likely to have difficulty coping with theloss. For this study, the researchers addressed four questions for their own findings.What psychiatric factors in the deceased parent are associated with suicide, accidentaldeath or natural death? What are the psychological developments of children whoseparent died? Is grief the only outcome of a child after their parent has passed away? Doesparental suicide have a higher risk of psychological development than the loss of a parentdue to an accident or natural death? To begin the study, researchers gathered 140 families with whose parent was adeceased parent who was between the ages of 30 to 60 years old at the time of theirdeath. The child was aged seven to 25 years old when the parent died. The parent diedfrom suicide, an accident or a sudden natural death. This group was compared to a non-bereaved control group. There were 99 families and both parents were living. Bothgroups were chosen through a local newspaper advertisement. Then the researchersproceeded with the interviews, which were held at the participant’s homes. The interviews were conducted approximately no more than nine months after theparent died. The results varied differently. The children whose parent died due to suicidewere more likely to have bipolar disorder, alcohol, and substance abuse than the non-bereaved group. In their findings, the researchers also found that children whose parentdied of an accident were more likely to develop personality disorders. As for the childwhose parent died suddenly and naturally, they had about the same likelihood as thechildren whose parent died of suicide in developing bipolar disorder. The researchers also took into account the families history of a depression
  5. 5. Death of a parent and its negative effects on 5a childdisorder. Many of the child’s parent, or their caregiver, who was still alive also had ahistory of depression or anxiety both prior and after the death of the deceased parent.The caregivers of the children from all three groups had increased posttraumatic stressdisorder compared to the caregivers of the non-bereaved group. Overall, symptoms thatarise in both the parent and child after a parent has suddenly died are PTSD, suicidalthoughts, depression, and anxiety. The bereaved groups are at a higher risk to for depression and PTSD after theirparent has died. Every category in the bereaved group had its different outcomes with thechildren. The two groups that were the most similar were the parent who died fromsuicide or an accident. Those children were more likely to develop a more seriouspsychological disorder because of the sudden death of their parent. Whereas the childwhose parent died from natural causes had the chance to spend time with their parentbefore they passed away. The researchers provide information on the best solution tomaintain healthy. After this tragic event, the child is to be continuously monitored fordepression by a their caregiver. Given that these children will mourn for the loss of theirparent, the caregiver needs to support their child. As for further research, again theresearchers should conduct longitudinal studies. Studies have been done on childhood depression following the death of a parent.Researchers Pfeffer, Karus, Siegel, and Jiang (2000) studied depression, socialcompetence and behavioral problems in children after their parent suddenly died fromcancer or suicide. They identified young adolescents through records of the local medicalexaminer whose parents had passed away about one and a half years before the study.The adolescents were between the ages of six to 13. The focus of this study was to
  6. 6. Death of a parent and its negative effects on 6a childevaluate how children adapt after their parent has died. They gathered 16 children whoseparent died of suicide and 64 children whose parent died from cancer. Then theresearchers continued into their study and began to measure stress and depression in thesechildren. A self-report questionnaire was given out to the children to rate their symptoms ofdepression. There were five categories: negative mood, interpersonal problems,incapable, inability to feel happy and negative self-esteem. The children’s behaviorreports were collected through the Child Behavior Checklist. While conducting their testson the adolescents, they found both groups to be extremely similar. There was only onedifference was that ; children of suicidal parents were more depressed and angry. The scores of the children were reported inon a table. Overall, the child whoseparent died of suicide had slightly higher scores in all five categories. Other thandepression, there are additional other psychological distresses that children encounter butthis study did not focus on those. The living parent of the child reported the child’sbehavioral problems. This included how they were doing in school and how theyreactedinteracted in social settings with their friends and family members. There was ahigh level of spirit in the children after the loss of their parent. Another finding was that achild has a higher risk to develop a more serious emotional or behavioral problembetween one to two years after the parent has died. Lifestyle changes, such as thecaregiver remarrying after the parent has died, can trigger a major depression disorder. The results produced expected conclusions to the researchers. The bereavedchildren whose parent died from suicide had higher levels of depression. Each childgrieves death differently and for the child who lost their parent to suicide, traumatic
  7. 7. Death of a parent and its negative effects on 7a childthoughts of sadness are high. As for children who lost their parent to cancer, theirdepression was at its highest before the parent passed away because of their anticipationof their parent’s death. Unfortunately, the children had to see their parents’ healthdeteriorate before their eyes. Whereas the children whose parent died of suicide did nothave that time to anticipate their parent’s death, therefore they were on a much differentphase of grief. Researchers Dehlin and Martensson (2008) studied how a death of a parent affectsa young individual in every aspect. The child had to suddenly grow independent andstress is greatly involved at this time. The researchers focused on the children’sexperiences during this tough time. In the United States, more than two2 million childrenyounger than 18 years of age have had the misfortune to experience a parental death. Thestage that the parent is terminally ill brings about great stress and is a traumaticexperience. They have to see their parent undergo both physical and psychologicalchange. To begin their study the researchers collected their participants from a WesternSwedish hospital where their parent had been hospitalized. The children were 13 to 15years old when their parent had died. The death of their parent had to have occurred nomore than three years before the interviews were conducted. Five children matched thisexact criterion. The final study group was composed of two girls and three boys, ages 16to 18. The interviews were conducted at a hospital. The interviewsIt covered questionson how the adolescents felt during the length of their parents illness, the time of theirdeath and afterwards. The questions mainly included their experiences with their parent
  8. 8. Death of a parent and its negative effects on 8a childbefore and after they died. The researchers asked about memories, their relationship withthe parent, their support system and how they see their future. These interviews wereemotionally hard for the participants but they were willing to continue with the study. Tocorrectly analyze the data from the interviews, the researchers had to look for similarimportant statements. Each interview was carefully read and many found related themesand experiences. The focus of this data analyzing section was to gather information ondifferences and similarities during this particular traumatic event. The results of this study composed itself into three categories. In these categories,the participants expressed how they felt during the time that their parent passed away.The first is: the adolescence felt as if their life was under threat. They asked questionssuch as why had this happened to them? In this category, they questioned the existence ofGod. For some participants they began believing in God. For the rest they did not believethat God could have done something so terribly unfair. The adolescents felt depressedhaving to see their parent suffer through an illness and it changed their life forever. Theydescribed the day that they dreaded seeing their parent dead. It was too difficult tocomprehend that their parent will no longer be there for them. They were in a state ofshock and at the same time that it all happened so quickly. Other thoughts and feelings that affected these adolescents was their fullunderstanding of their parent’s death. They could not quite grasp the concept and werenot prepared for what was going to happen next. These adolescents tried to make theirlives return to normal as much as possible. Their everyday routine lives gave thempersonal security although it was not the same. They needed ways to create a goodatmosphere at home to increase their well-being. This was the time when they needed
  9. 9. Death of a parent and its negative effects on 9a childtheir closest friends. Friends were a form of escaping reality because they did not have to think of theirdeceased parent. Going to school was also a relief to the participants as a way to relaxfrom all the sadness. Before the parent had passed away, the participants all made sure tospend as much time as possible with their ill parent. If they had not spent that time withtheir sick parent, they would have felt guilty about their death. They shared happiermemories of having spent those last moments with the parent. The second category was: the adolescents bear this situation alone. They feltloneliness even though their family and close friends were there to support them in theirtime of loss. To the participants that had siblings, they did not seek out to them becauseeveryone has their own different method of coping. Ultimately they had felt that no onecould help them. Along with feeling lonely, there was also the feeling of being singledout. The adolescent was given more attention than any one else. They felt that everyonearound them felt sorry for them and their loss and they did not want that. The third category is the changed life that the participants faced. This traumaticevent was something they would never forget and will affect them for the rest of theirlife. The participants expressed great sadness when they realized that their parent couldnot be present for any important events that they will have in their life such asgraduations, marriage and seeing their children grow up. The participants valued their lifeand appreciated it more than ever. This study approached the interview style as comfortablye as possible for theadolescents. The researchers wanted to know their strong experiences and feelings. Theonly error for this study was that the researchers were too specific in finding participants
  10. 10. Death of a parent and its negative effects on 10a childand found only five adolescents to represent the whole population. For future testing theresearchers should closely study these three categories and focus more on how stressfulthe event was for the adolescent. To experience the death of a parent is a hurtful time for anyone at any age butparticularly for young children. Without their parent, the adolescent feels depressed, andanxiety., Pand psychological and behavioral problems are more likely to arise later in life.They lose their sense of security that their parent provided. I had previously stated futurestudies that should be done which . Those include longitudinal studies and copingmethods. They should be supported by their family members and continue to feel unitedduring this hard time in their life. Being patient and grieving is appropriate for theseyoung children. No adolescent should go through this event at such a young age but ithelps him or her see the positive in their life. They will never forget this experience.
  11. 11. Death of a parent and its negative effects on 11a child ReferencesDehlin, L. & Martensson, L. (2008). Adolescents’ experiences of a parent’s serious illness and death. Palliative and Supportive Care, 7, 13-25. doi:10.1017/S1478951509000042Gray, L.B., Weller, R., Fristad, M., & Weller, E. (2011). Depression in children and adolescents two months after the death of a parent. Journal of Affective Disorders. 135, 277–283. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2011.08.009Melhem, N., Walker, M., Moritz, G., Brent, D. (2008). Antecedents and Sequelae of Sudden Parental Death in Offspring and Surviving Caregivers. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 162(5),403-410.Pfeffer, C., Karus, D., Siegel, K., & Jiang, H. (2000). Child Survivors of Parental Death From Cancer Or Suicide: Depressive and Behavioral Outcomes. Psycho- Oncology. 9, 1–10. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1099-1611(200001/02)9:1<1::AID- PON430>3.0.CO;2-5
  12. 12. Death of a parent and its negative effects on 12a child