Dealing with the Loss of a Child

Parents of children who commit suicide face similar challenges as any grieving parent

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) It is not surprising that a parent who loses their child is at a higher risk for depression and anxiety. But do their mental health risks depend on how their child died?

A recent study sought to understand this question better. Researchers compared parents who lost kids to suicide or to car accidents.

They found that the parents in both groups faced similar mental health risks, such as depression and anxiety.

However, the parents of children who committed suicide appear more prone to these problems even before their child's death.

"Seek support groups to handle grief."

The study, led by James M. Bolton, MD, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba in Canada, aimed to better understand the parents of children who committed suicide as compared to parents who lost their child to a car accident or who didn't lose a child at all.

The researchers included three groups of parents in their study. One group of 1,415 parents had a child who committed suicide between the years of 1996 and 2007.

The other groups were 1,415 parents in the general population and 1,132 parents who lost a child to a motor vehicle accident.

The researchers looked at the mental health diagnoses, physical health problems, social lives and use of treatment within two years of their child's death among parents.

Unsurprisingly, the rates of depression and anxiety are higher in parents after losing a child to suicide.

These parents were twice as likely to be depressed and 40 percent more likely to have an anxiety disorder in the two years after their child's death compared to the two years before.

They were also slightly more likely – 18 percent more likely – to go through a divorce or separation after their child committed suicide.

However, the mental health outcomes of parents whose children committed suicide were very similar overall to those of parents whose children died in car accidents.

The parents of kids who died in a car accident tended to have larger increases in their rate of depression after the death than the parents of the children who committed suicide.

Yet the parents of kids who committed suicide had higher rates of mental disorders requiring hospitalization.

There were also a few differences in these two groups of parents before their child died. The parents whose children committed suicide were a little more likely to already be depressed, to have a physical illness and to have a low income.

The researchers concluded that parents who lose a child to suicide are at a higher risk of mental health problems and social problems like divorce.

However, these risks are not much different than those for parents who lose their children to other accidents. Further, the parents of children who commit suicide appear to be more vulnerable in terms of mental and physical health even before their child's death.

The study was published December 10 in the Archives of General Psychiatry. The research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Manitoba Health Research Council, a Manitoba Health Research Council Chair Award and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Doctoral Scholarship. The researchers reported no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 10, 2012
Last Updated:
February 16, 2013