One of the greatest traumas imaginable is when parents have to deal with the death of a child. Producing greater stress than dealing with the death of a parent or spouse, a child’s death is especially traumatic because it is often unexpected as well as being in violation of the usual order of things in which the child is expected to bury the parent. The emotional blow associated with child loss can lead to a wide range of psychological and physiological problems including depression, anxiety, cognitive and physical symptoms linked to stress, marital problems, increased risk for suicide, pain and guilt. All of these issues can persist long after the child’s death and may lead to diagnosed psychiatric conditions such as complicated grief disorder (currently under review for inclusion in the DSM-5) which can include many symptoms similar to posttraumatic stress disorder.
But can losing a child reduce a parent’s lifespan? Although the emotional trauma associated with child loss can be devastating at any age, the impact seems to be far greater for elderly parents who often have related health problems that can be adversely affected by stress and grief.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post here.