Does the death of a child influence parental use of psychotropic medication? A follow-up register study from Finland

PLoS One. 2018 May 2;13(5):e0195500. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0195500. eCollection 2018.


Background: Several studies have found that the loss of a child is associated with psychiatric health problems, yet few studies examined whether child loss influences psychotropic medication use. This study examined short- and long-term use of psychotropic medication, both before and after the death of a child, and its potential effect modifiers.

Methodology/principal findings: A random sample of 205,456 parents, including 902 bereaved parents, were selected from a Finnish total population registry. The analyses were based on linear regressions using generalised estimation equations (GEE) and adjusted for sociodemographic factors. Annual psychotropic use was defined as having purchased prescribed psychotropic medication between 1996 and2012. Bereaved parents were followed for four years prior to and up to four years after the death of their child. An increase in the use of antidepressants and anxiolytics was found in parents following their loss. The highest percentage of use was found around one year after bereavement, followed by a steady decrease although this remained higher than the level of use among non-bereaved four years after the death. Between 20-25% of bereaved mothers and 10-15% of bereaved fathers used antidepressants or anxiolytics one year after bereavement while the corresponding number in non-bereaved was 5-10%. An increase in psychotropic medication was also found several years before the disease-related loss of a child.

Conclusions/significance: The use of psychotropic medication is markedly higher among parents after losing a child. Patterns of use leading up to and following the death of a child should be further examined in relation to clinical risk factors so as to identify at risk populations.

Medical subject headings: Bereavement, child death, psychotropic medication, death, child, register, Finland.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Bereavement*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Death*
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Registries*


  • Psychotropic Drugs

Grants and funding

This work received support from The Swedish Research Council, 2017-03266, to Professor Mikael Rostila and the Academy of Finland, to Professor Pekka Martikainen.