Skip to main content
×
Home
    • Aa
    • Aa

Mourning or early inadequate care? Reexamining the relationship of maternal loss in childhood with adult depression and anxiety

  • Antonia Bifulco (a1), Tirrill Harris (a1) and George W. Brown (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

Two population enquiries in Walthamstow and Islington, London, have shown that loss of the mother before the age of 17 years, either by death or separation for a year or more, doubles the risk of depressive and anxiety disorders among adult women. Furthermore, there was a particularly high rate of adult depression among those whose mothers died before they were 6 years old, and this was associated with a measure of childhood helplessness. There was no such link of either adult disorder or childhood helplessness with age at loss under 6 years for those losing a mother by separation. Two possible explanations were explored for these contrasting results. That concerning the adequacy of mourning of the mother's death received no support. However, evidence indicated that experience with the mother before the loss (usually affected by ongoing illness) explained the link of adult depression or anxiety with her early death. The failure of age at loss to relate in the separation group was probably due to the fact that among them age of separation was not a good indication of the quality of maternal care before age 6. Indirect evidence emerged which suggested that quality of early attachment (before age 6) to the natural mother before any loss relates to childhood helplessness. This in turn relates to a higher risk of disorder in adult life.

Copyright
Corresponding author
Address reprint requests to: A. Bifulco, Department of Social Policy and Social Science, Royal Holloway & Bedford New College, University of London, 11, Bedford Square, London WC1B 3RA, UK.
References
Hide All
Ainsworth M. D. S. (1985). Attachments across the life-span. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 61, 792812.
Ainsworth M. D. S., Blehar M. C., Waters E., & Wall S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Bebbington P., Hurry J., Tennant C., Sturt E., & Wing J. K. (1981). Epidemiology of mental disorders in Camberwell. Psychological Medicine, 11, 561579.
Bifulco A. (1985). Death of mother in childhood and clinical depression in adult life. A biographical approach to aetiology. Ph.D. thesis, University of London, London.
Bifulco A. T., Brown G. W., & Harris T. O. (1987). Childhood loss of parent, lack of adequate parental care and adult depression: A replication. Journal of Affective Disorders, 12, 115128.
Birtchnell J. (1980). Women whose mothers died in childhood: An outcome study. Psychological Medicine, 10, 699713.
Birtchnell J., & Kennard J. (1981). Early mother bereaved women who have and have not been psychiatric patients. Social Psychology, 16, 111.
Bowlby J. (1961). The Adolf Meyer lecture 1961. Childhood mourning and its implications for psychiatry. American Journal of Psychiatry, 118, 481497.
Bowlby J. (1980). Attachment and loss. Vol. 3: Loss, sadness and depression. London: The Hogarth Press.
Bowlby J. (1982). Attachment and loss. Vol. 1: Attachment (2nd ed.). London: Pelican Books.
Bretherton I. (1985). Attachment theory: Retrospect and prospect. In Bretherton I. & Waters E. (Eds.), Growing points of attachment theory and research (pp. 335). Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 50.
Brown G. W., Craig T. J. K., & Harris T. (1985). Depression: Disease or distress? British Journal of Psychiatry, 147, 612622.
Brown G. W., & Harris T. O. (1992). Aetiology of anxiety and depressive disorders in an inner-city population. 1. Early adversity. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Cadoret R. J., O'Gorman T. W., Heywood E., & Troughton E. (1985). Genetic and environmental factors in major depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 9, 155164.
Cadoret R. J., Troughton E., Mareno Merchant L., & Whitters A. (1990). Early life psychosocial events and adult affective symptoms. In Robins L. & Rutter M. (Eds.), Straight and devious pathways from childhood to adulthood (pp. 300313). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cicchetti D. (1989). How research on child maltreatment has informed the study of child development: Perspectives from developmental psychopathology. In Cicchetti D. & Carlson V. (Eds.), Child maltreatment (pp. 377431). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Cicchetti D., Cummings E. M., Greenberg M. T., & Marvin R. S. (1990). I. An organizational perspective on attachment beyond infancy. Implications for theory, measurement and research. In Greenberg M. T., Cicchetti D., & Cummings E. M. (Eds.), Attachment in pre-school years: Theory, research and intervention (pp. 349). Chicago: University of Chicago.
Cicchetti D., & Schneider-Rosen K. (1986). An organizational approach to childhood depression. In Rutter M., Izard C., & Read P. (Eds.), Depression in young people: Clinical and developmental perspectives (pp. 71134). New York: Guilford.
Cicchetti D., & Toth S. (1991). The making of a developmental psychopathologist. In Cantor J. H., Spiker C. C., & Lipsitt L. P., Child behavior and development: Training for diversity (pp. 3472). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.
Cohen J. (1968). Weighted kappa. Psychological Bulletin, 70, 213220.
Crook T., & Eliot J. (1980). Parental death during childhood and adult depression. Psychological Bulletin, 87, 252259.
Cummings E. M., & Cicchetti D. (1990). II. Toward a transactional model of relations between attachment and depression. In Greenberg M. T., Cicchetti D., & Cummings E. M. (Eds.), Attachment in the pre-school years: Theory, research and intervention (pp. 339372). Chicago: University of Chicago.
Dean C., Surtees P. G., & Sashidharan S. P. (1983). Comparison of research diagnostic systems in an Edinburgh community sample. British Journal of Psychiatry, 142, 247256.
Finlay-Jones R., Brown G. W., Duncan-Jones P., Harris T. O., Murphy E., & Prudo R. (1980). Depression and anxiety in the community. Psychological Medicine, 11, 445454.
Furman E. (1974). A child's parent dies: Studies in childhood bereavement. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Harris T., Brown G. W., & Bifulco A. (1986). Loss of parent and adult psychiatric disorder: The role of lack of adequate parental care. Psychological Medicine, 16, 641659.
Harris T., Brown G. W., & Bifulco A. (1987). Loss of parent in childhood and adult psychiatric disorder: The role of social class position and premarital pregnancy. Psychological Medicine, 17, 163183.
Harris T., Brown G. W., & Bifulco A. (1990a). Depression and situational helplessness/mastery in a sample selected to study childhood parental loss. Journal of Affective Disorders, 20, 2741.
Harris T., Brown G. W., & Bifulco A. (1990b). Loss of parent and adult psychiatric disorder: A tentative overall model. Development and Psychopathology, 2, 311328.
Hetherington E. M. (1979). Divorce: A child's perspective. American Psychologist, 34, 851858.
Hetherington E. M., Cox M., & Cox R. (1981). The aftermath of divorce. In Mathews M. (Ed.), Mother-child, father-child relationships (pp. 149–76). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Hodges J., & Tizard B. (1989). IQ and behavioral adjustment of ex-institutional adolescents. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 30, 5375.
Lloyd C. (1980). Life events and depressive disorder reviewed. Archives of General Psychiatry, 37, 529535.
Lynch M., & Cicchetti D. (1991). Patterns of relatedness in maltreated and nonmaltreated children: Connections among multiple representational models. Development and Psychopathology, 3, 207226.
Maclean M., & Wadsworth M. E. J. (1988). The interests of children after parental divorce: A long-term perspective. International Journal of Law and the Family, 2, 155166.
Mahler M. S. (1961). Sadness and grief in infancy and childhood. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 76, 332351.
Main M., Kaplan N., & Cassidy J. (1985). Security in infancy, childhood and adulthood. A move to the level of representation. In Bretherton I. & Waters E. (Eds.). Growing points of attachment theory and research (pp. 66104). Monographs of the Society of Research in Child Development, 50.
Mechanic D., & Hansell S. (1989). Divorce, family conflict and adolescents' well-being. Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, 30, 105116.
Miller J. B. M. (1971). Children's reactions to the death of a parent: A review of the psychoanalytic literature. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 19, 697719.
Nelson G. (1982). Parental death during childhood and adult depression: Some additional data. Social Psychiatry, 17, 3742.
Rochlin G. (1965). Griefs and discontents. Boston: Little, Brown.
Rutter M. (1986). The developmental psychopathology of depression: Issues and perspectives. In Rutter M., Izard C. E., & Read P. B. (Eds.), Depression in young people. Developmental and clinical perspectives (pp. 330). New York and London: Guilford.
Rutter M., Quinton D., & Hill J. (1990). Adult out-come of institution reared children: Males and fe-males compared. In Robins L. & Rutter M. (Eds.), Straight and devious pathways from childhood to adulthood (pp. 135157). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sroufe L. A., & Rutter M. (1984). The domain of developmental psychopathology. Child Development, 55, 11841199.
Tennant C., Bebbington P., & Hurry J. (1980). Parental death in childhood and risk of adult depressive disorders: A review. Psychological Medicine, 10, 289299.
Von Knorring A. L., Bohman M., & Sigvardsson S. (1982). Early life experiences and psychiatric disorders—An adoptee study. Acta Scandinavica, 65, 283291.
Wallerstein J. S., & Kelly J. B. (1975). The effects of parental divorce: Experiences of the pre-school child. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 14, 600616.
Waters E., & Sroufe L. A. (1983). Competence as a developmental construct. Developmental Review, 3, 7987.
Wing J. K., Cooper J. E., & Sartorius N. (1974). The measurement and classification for psychiatric symptoms; an instruction manual for the Present State Examination and CATEGO programme. London: Cambridge University Press.
Wolfenstein M. (1966). How is mourning possible? Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 21, 93123.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 66 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 405 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.