Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 85–96 | Cite as

Quality of Social Relationships and the Development of Depression in Parentally-Bereaved Youth

  • Erin N. SchoenfelderEmail author
  • Irwin N. Sandler
  • Sharlene Wolchik
  • David MacKinnon
Empirical Research


Fear of abandonment has been found to be associated with mental health problems for youth who have experienced a parent’s death. This article examines how youth’s fears of abandonment following the death of a parent lead to later depressive symptoms by influencing relationships with caregivers, peers, and romantic partners. Participants were 109 youth ages 7–16 (50% male), assessed 4 times over a 6-year period. The ethnic composition of the sample was non-Hispanic Caucasian (67%), Hispanic (16%), African American (7%), Native American (3%), Asian (1%), and Other (6%). Youth’s fears of abandonment by their surviving caregiver during the first year of data collection were related to their anxiety in romantic relationships 6 years later, which, in turn, was associated with depressive symptoms measured at 6 years. Youth’s caregiver, peer, and romantic relationships at the 6-year follow-up were related to their concurrent depressive symptoms. The relationship between youth’s attachment to their surviving caregiver and their depressive symptoms was stronger for younger participants. Implications of these findings for understanding the development of mental health problems following parental bereavement are discussed.


Bereavement Depression Attachment Social competence Romantic relationships 


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Copyright information

© US Government 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erin N. Schoenfelder
    • 1
    Email author
  • Irwin N. Sandler
    • 1
  • Sharlene Wolchik
    • 1
  • David MacKinnon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyArizona State UniversityPhoenixUSA

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