Adaptive and maladaptive coping in bereaved parents

Mairi Harper, Ronan O'Carroll and Rory O'Connor, University of Stirling

[Project number 30087]

Coping with parental grief following the death of a child is considered to be one of the most stressful life events anyone can experience (Miller & Rahe, 1997). Following bereavement, bereaved parents may find themselves facing further difficulties in life as they adjust to the major change in their life. The current study aims to objectively compare the employment, social class, health and relationship status of bereaved parents versus non-bereaved comparisons. The study also aims to identify the mortality risk for bereaved parents and therefore compares death and widowhood status to that of non-bereaved parents. The hypothesis under investigation is that bereaved parents have poorer employment and social class outcomes, higher levels of relationship breakdown, higher mortality risk and more hospital admissions than non-bereaved parents.

Bereaved parents are more likely than non-bereaved parents to experience mental health issues such as major depression, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (Li, Laursen, Precht, Olsen & Mortensen, 2005) and complicated grief (Dyregrov, Nordanger, & Dyregrov, 2003). Serious physical illnesses are also an issue and those found to be more common in bereaved parents include myocardial infarction (Li, Hansen, Mortensen & Olsen, 2002), cancer (Li, Johansen, Hansen & Olsen, 2002 & Li, Johnsen & Olsen, 2003) and multiple sclerosis (Li, Johansen, Bronnum-Hansen, Stenager, Koch-Henriksen & Olsen, 2004). Finally, as a result of the bereavement and the associated increase in stress, the bereaved parent often faces relationship difficulties with both parties attempting to accommodate their loss simultaneously (Lang, Gottlieb & Amsel, 1996). Employment issues arise due to problems with concentration and attention (Arbuckle & DeVries, 1995). Since bereavement is not classed as a disability, bereaved parents are not eligible to be offered any additional support at work, resulting in changes in job situation and corresponding financial hardship (Corden, 2002).
The studies by Li et al. were carried out in Finland, using census and health data. No similar studies have been found in a UK population. The other studies mentioned used data from volunteer participants, sampled from hospital records and support organization membership.

The current project aims, for the first time, to identify the situation for bereaved parents in the UK.

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