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Loss of parent in childhood and adult psychiatric disorder: the role of lack of adequate parental care

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 July 2009

Tirril Harris*
Affiliation:
Department of Social Policy and Social Science, Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, London
George W. Brown
Affiliation:
Department of Social Policy and Social Science, Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, London
Antonia Bifulco
Affiliation:
Department of Social Policy and Social Science, Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, London
*
1Address for correspondence: Tirril Harris, Department of Social Policy and Social Science, Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, (University of London), 11 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3RA.

Synopsis

The inconclusiveness of the literature on the role of loss of parent in influencing psychiatric disorder in adulthood is well known. A number of reasons involving sampling, location and other methodological features, are given to account for these contradictory findings. A study specially designed to cope with these features is then described and basic results are reported. These indicate that, in a sample of women aged 18–65, loss of mother before the age of 17, either by death or by separation of one year or more, was associated with clinical depression in the year of interview. Loss of father by death was in no way associated with current depression, but separation from father showed a trend which, however, did not reach statistical significance. Control for other possible confounding factors did not change this patterning of results; these were further supported when psychiatric episodes earlier in adulthood were examined. Examination of the caregiving arrangements in childhood suggests that it is ‘lack of care’, defined in terms of neglect rather than simply hostile parental behaviour, which accounts for the raised rate of depression. Such ‘lack of care’ is more frequent after loss of mother than after loss of father.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1986

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