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Addiction, Mental Illness Arise from Loss of Child

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Parents who experience the death of a child are at high risk of developing addiction or mental-health problems, according to a new study.

The New York Times reported March 24 that bereaved mothers were seven times more likely to be hospitalized for mood disorders during the year after their child's death; the risk of schizophrenia hospitalization rose fourfold, and grieving mothers were three times as likely as their nongrieving peers to be treated for alcohol or other drug abuse.

Bereaved fathers were six times as likely to be treated for mood disorders like depression within the first year, and also were at elevated risk of schizophrenia and addiction. Even five years after the child's death, the risk of mental illness and addiction was higher for parents who lost children.

The study, led by Dr. Jiong Li of the Danish Epidemiology Science Center, analyzed the medical records of more than a million people who had at least one child born prior to 1999. Of these, 17,033 had lost a child under 18, and 495 were hospitalized for psychiatric problems for the first time within five years of their child's death.

The research was published in the March 24, 2005 issue of the New England Journal of
Medicine
.

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