Childhood bereavement: Psychopathology in the 2 years postparental death

Julie Cerel, Mary A. Fristad, Joseph Verducci, Ronald A. Weller, Elizabeth B. Weller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

178 Scopus citations


Objective: Although the death of a parent is one of the most significant stressors a child can experience, the psychiatric sequelae of parental death are not fully understood. Method: A total of 360 parent-bereaved children (ages 6-17) and their surviving parents were directly interviewed four times during the first 2 years following the death (at 2, 6, 13, and 25 months). Data collection occurred from 1989 to 1996. Psychiatric symptomatology was compared among the bereaved children, 110 depressed children, and 128 community control children and their informant parents. Additional analyses examined simple bereavement without other stressors versus complex bereavement with other stressors and anticipated versus unanticipated death. Results: Bereavement following parental death is associated with increased psychiatric problems in the first 2 years after death. Bereaved children are, however, less impaired than children diagnosed with clinical depression. Higher family socioeconomic status and lower surviving parents' level of depressive symptoms are associated with better outcomes. Complex bereavement was associated with a worse course, but anticipation of the death was not. Conclusions: Childhood bereavement from parental death is a significant stressor. Children who experience depression in combination with parental depression or in the context of other family stressors are at the most risk of depression and overall psychopathology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)681-690
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2006


  • Bereavement
  • Childhood depression
  • Life events

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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