The phenomenology and course of depression in parentally bereaved and non-bereaved youth

Sami Hamdan, Nadine M. Melhem, Giovanna Porta, Monica Walker Payne, David A. Brent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Objective: To compare the phenomenology and course of bereavement-related depression to depression that occurred later in the course of bereavement and to depression in non-bereaved youth. Method: This sample is drawn from a cohort of parentally bereaved youth and non-bereaved controls followed for approximately 5 years. Three groups of depressed youth were compared with respect to symptoms, severity, duration, risk for recurrence, and correlates and risk factors: (1) a group with bereavement-related depression (BRD, n = 42), with the onset of a depressive episode within the first 2 months after parental loss; a group with later bereavement depression (LBD, n = 30), with onset at least 12 months after parental loss; and a non-bereaved control group with depression (CD, n = 30). Results: BRD episodes were similar to LBD and CD with respect to number of symptoms, severity, functional impairment, duration, risk for recurrence, and most risk factors and correlates. BRD, compared with both CD and LBD, were younger, exposed to fewer life events, and less likely to have experienced feelings of worthlessness. Also, caregivers of BRD showed higher rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder at the time of the depression compared with each of the other two groups. Conclusion: BRD is similar to both LBD and CD in phenomenology, course, and risk factors, supporting a diagnostic and therapeutic approach to BRD similar to that for non-bereavement-related depressions. In the bereaved child who presents with depression shortly after parental death, the clinician should also be alert to caregiver depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)528-536
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • bereavement
  • depression
  • nosology


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