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Teens in mourning need intervention

sad boy

Each year in the US, about 4% of children under the age of 15 experience the sudden and unexpected death of a parent. The loss can be devastating. In the first study of its kind, reseach has focused on children and young teens who grieve a parent. They have found that 40% of children bereaved by sudden parental death will require some kind of intervention to prevent prolonged grief reaction and depression. Not only does this lead to diminished quality of life, but reduced performance at school and later work combined with medical bills for therapy or physical ailments related to the depression.

Researchers studied 182 children and young teens, youths between the ages of 7 and 18. These young people had experienced the death of a parent from suicide, accident or sudden natural death. More than 50% of the children were able to cope with their grief within one year. But for some the course of grief was slow and more difficult. Up to 30% showed a slower, more gradual diminishment of their symptoms. About 10% displayed high and prolonged grief for an extended amount of time, nearly three years beyond the death of the parent. Those children with prolonged grief often experienced depression.

"The death of a parent is consistently rated as one of the most stressful events a child can experience; however, little is known about the course of grief and its effects on children. With our research, we are hoping to gain greater understanding of grief reactions so that we can better design teatments to relieve the burden of grief in bereaved children," wrote Nadine M. Melhem, PhD, lead author of the study and assistant professor psychiatry at Pitt.

The grief experience of the surviving parent also affected the children. The worse off the surviving parent, the longer recovery took for the children. This information also helps inform successful strategies for dealing with the sudden death of a parent.

Source: Pitt, MedicalNewsToday

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