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

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Erin N. Schoenfelder.

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Support for this research was provided by the National Institute of Mental Health Grant R01 MH49155 for the 6-year follow-up of the Family Bereavement Program and Grant T32 MH19397 to support prevention research training.

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Schoenfelder, E.N., Sandler, I.N., Wolchik, S. et al. Quality of Social Relationships and the Development of Depression in Parentally-Bereaved Youth. J Youth Adolescence 40, 85–96 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-009-9503-z

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Keywords

  • Bereavement
  • Depression
  • Attachment
  • Social competence
  • Romantic relationships