The mental health impact of stillbirth, neonatal death or SIDS: prevalence and patterns of distress among mothers

Soc Sci Med. 1996 Oct;43(8):1273-82. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(96)00039-1.


Although stressful events have long been implicated in the onset of psychological disorder, available data suggest that the majority of individuals appear to escape serious impairment even following highly traumatic events. Related to this is the question of chronicity and whether those who do become impaired develop mental health problems of an ongoing nature. This paper documents the psychological adjustment of 194 women following a highly stressful event-the death of an infant due to stillbirth, neonatal death or SIDS. Anxiety and depression were measured on four occasions-at 2, 8, 15 and 30 months post-loss--using the Delusions Symptoms States Inventory (DSSI/sAD). For comparative purposes, the mental health of 203 mothers of a surviving infant was similarly assessed. The results demonstrate that bereaved mothers, as a group, manifest significantly higher rates of psychological distress than mothers of living infants for at least 30 months after their loss. Their impairment may be either acute or chronic in form. The majority of bereaved mothers appear not be develop serious mental health problems in response to the loss or experience psychological impairment that is usually self-limiting. For a smaller group of women, the death of a baby may herald serious and ongoing distress. Bereaved mothers who were not distressed soon (2 months) after the loss were unlikely to become so later, but those who were still distressed at 8 months were likely to remain so subsequently.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adjustment Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Adult
  • Bereavement*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Fetal Death*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Prevalence
  • Queensland / epidemiology
  • Risk
  • Sudden Infant Death*
  • Time Factors