Parental loss and childhood depression
The findings, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, also showed
that the risk of alcohol dependence was significantly increased in females
compared with males following the death of a parent.
Several lines of evidence have suggested that the death of a parent is
associated with increased risk for major depression. However, few studies have
looked at whether men and women differ in their risk for illness after
parental loss in childhood.
To address this issue, researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University in
Richmond, Virginia, used statistical hazard models to examine first onsets of
major depression and alcohol dependence among twins from same-sex and
opposite-sex twin pairs.
Of the 5,070 twins from same-sex pairs examined, 20 per cent reported loss of
a parent during childhood. Of the 2,118 twins from opposite-sex twin pairs, 21
per cent reported parental loss.
Professor Kenneth Kendler and colleagues found that the increased risk for
major depression associated with parental loss declined over time. No sex
differences were observed in the impact of parental loss on the risk of major
By contrast, alcohol dependence was associated with a significantly increased
risk after parental separation but not death. In both single-sex and
opposite-sex twin pairs, the association between separation and risk of
alcohol dependence was significantly stronger in females than in males.
The authors conclude that some, but not all, of the impact of parental
separation on risk of alcohol dependence in women may be mediated through
increased risk for major depression.
Reference: Kendler et al, Psychological Medicine 2002;32:1187-1194
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