Author(s): Vance JC, Najman JM, Thearle MJ, Embelton G, Foster WJ
OBJECTIVE: We proposed to measure part of the natural history of grief by determining the changes in the psychological symptoms experienced by bereaved parents over the 8 months after the loss of an infant from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), neonatal death (NND), or stillbirth (SB). Parents were interviewed twice, at 2 and 8 months after the loss. METHODOLOGY: A total of 220 bereaved families (45 SIDS, 93 NND, and 82 SB) were compared with 226 control families who had a live born child. Comparison was based on responses to a standardized measure of anxiety and depression (Delusions-Symptoms-States Inventory). RESULTS: For separate cross-sectional comparison at both 2 and 8 months, significant differences were noted in the frequency of maternal symptoms of anxiety and depression between bereaved and control groups (P < .001). Such differences were present for paternal anxiety and depression at 2 months, but not 8 months. A second series of analysis examined longitudinal changes in symptom frequency between 2 and 8 months for each bereaved group. For mothers, the changes were significant for anxiety and depression: SIDS and NND (P < .001), SB (P < .01). For fathers, the changes for anxiety and depression in SIDS were P < .01; NND, P < .05 for anxiety and P < .01 per depression; changes were not significant for SB. At 2 months, relative risks for symptoms of maternal anxiety were significant for all three bereaved groups: SIDS, 22.4; NND, 5.4; and SB, 5.1. Comparable significant figures at 8 months were: SIDS, 5.5; NND, 3.9; and SB, 3.0, respectively. For depression the results for 2 months were: SIDS, 8.6; NND, 5.9; and SB, 6.7 (all significant) while at 8 months the results were: SIDS, 5.1; NND, 3.8; and SB, 2.4 (SB group not significant). For fathers the relevant risks were generally lower. At 2 months, anxiety levels were higher than controls in all three groups, and for depression in the SIDS and SB groups. At 8 months, significant results persisted only in the SB group. CONCLUSION: These data indicate that bereaved parents have a marked reduction in the symptoms of mental illness over the first 8 months after the loss. Although the changes over time are significant for both mothers and fathers, mothers at 8 months still demonstrated higher levels of anxiety and depression when compared with controls. These levels of symptoms are far less evident for fathers at 8 months.