Prevalence and predictors of parental grief and depression after the death of a child from cancer

J Palliat Med. 2010 Nov;13(11):1321-6. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2010.0037. Epub 2010 Oct 18.


Purpose: To investigate patterns of grief and depression in a sample of parents whose child had died of cancer, and to examine factors related to burden of illness and end-of-life care as potential predictors of parental grief and depression outcomes.

Methods: Fifty-eight parents completed standardized self-report questionnaires measuring prolonged grief disorder (Inventory of Complicated Grief-Revised [ICG-R]) and depression (Beck Depression Inventory-Second Edition [BDI-II]) and participated in structured interviews designed to elicit their perceptions of their child's end-of-life care and burden of illness. The majority of participants were mothers (84%) and the mean length of time since child death was 4.5 (standard deviation [SD] = 2.4) years (range, 1.0-9.8 years).

Results: Rates of prolonged grief disorder (PGD) were similar to those reported in other bereaved populations (10.3%); however, 41% of parents met diagnostic criteria for grief-related separation distress. Twenty-two percent of parents reported clinically significant depressive symptoms. Time since death and parental perception of the oncologist's care predicted parental grief symptoms but not depressive symptoms. Perceptions of the child's quality of life during the last month, preparedness for the child's death, and economic hardship also predicted grief and depression outcomes.

Conclusions: A minority of parents met criteria for PGD and depression, however, almost half the sample was experiencing significant separation distress associated with persistent longing and yearning for their child. Time since death is a significant predictor of parental psychological distress. This study also highlights the importance of end-of-life factors in parents' long-term adjustment and the need for optimal palliative care to ensure the best possible outcomes for parents.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Cost of Illness
  • Death
  • Depression / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Grief*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms*
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Terminal Care / psychology
  • Victoria