Bipolar disorder and several forms of psychosis have been linked to early childhood bereavement in a new study from researchers. The team examined data from Statistics Sweden and from the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare for 946,994 children born between 1973 and 1985, Medscape reports.
The team stated in their findings that losing a parent or sibling during childhood (prior to the age of 13) resulted in a greater likelihood of both affective and noneffective psychoses. The researchers defined affective psychosis as conditions such as unipolar depression and bipolar disorder. By noneffective psychosis, they were referring to conditions like schizophrenia.
Kathryn M. Abel, MRCPsych, PhD, professor of psychological medicine at the Center for Women’s Mental Health at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, said she was “a little surprised” the effects were greatest on the youngest children.
“We think this simply reflects a longer time to accumulate harmful/non-supportive family effects,” she said. “Children losing parents or families with severe bereavement need to be supported, and particular care needs to be taken to minimize other known harms, like bullying.”
Medscape‘s Deborah Brauser breaks down further findings from the report, stating that results showed “33.9% of the children included in the study were exposed to the death of a family member before they were 13 years of age.”
Of this number, 15,189 deaths occurred from accidents, 11,117 deaths from suicide, and a total of 280,172 deaths due to other/natural causes (i.e. cancer or cardiac arrest).
“Of all the children who experienced a family death,” Brauser adds, “0.4% went on to develop a nonaffective psychosis, and 0.17% developed an affective psychosis.”
Children three years and younger proved to be at the highest risk, with likelihood dropping the closer a child got to the age of 13.
“Our research shows childhood exposure to death of a parent or sibling is associated with excess risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life [and] is particularly associated with early childhood exposure,” said Dr. Abel in a release. “Further investigation is now required, and future studies should consider the broader contexts of parental suicide and parental loss in non-Western, ethnically diverse populations.”
The study was originally published online January 21 at BMJ.
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Do you think that events like an early childhood bereavement can influence the brain in developing bipolar disorder and other psychoses, or is this just coincidence? Sound off in our comments section.
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