Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Unexpected Loss of Loved One Raises Mental Illness Risk Across the Lifespan, Study Finds

Unexpected death of a loved one appears to increase the incidence across the life span for major depressive episode, panic disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and in older age groups for manic episode, phobias, alcohol use disorders, and generalized anxiety disorder.

These findings are reported in the new study, “The Burden of Loss: Unexpected Death of a Loved One and Psychiatric Disorders Across the Life Course in a National Study,” published in AJP in Advance. Researchers from Columbia University and the Department of Psychiatry at Boston Children’s Hospital, estimated the relationship between unexpected death of a loved one and onset of lifetime DSM-IV disorders using data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, a national face-to-face survey of noninstitutionalized adults that included assessment of lifetime experience of unexpected death, other potentially traumatic experiences, and PTSD. There were 27,534 respondents in the final analysis.

The researchers found that unexpected loss of a loved one was the most common traumatic experience and most likely to be rated as the respondent’s worst, regardless of other traumatic experiences. Increased incidence after unexpected death was observed at nearly every point across the life course for major depressive episode, panic disorder, and PTSD. Increased incidence was clustered in later adult age groups for manic episode, phobias, alcohol use disorders, and generalized anxiety disorder.

“The bereavement period is associated with elevated risk for the onset of multiple psychiatric disorders, consistently across the life course and coincident with the experience of the loved one’s death,” the researchers said. “Novel associations between unexpected death and onset of several disorders, including mania, confirm multiple case reports and results of small studies and suggest an important emerging area for clinical research and practice.”

For more on this subject, see the Psychiatric News article, "Trauma Disorder Criteria Reflect Variability of Response to Events."

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