Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Completed Projects

Project Title:

Adaptive and maladaptive coping in bereaved parents

Project Number:



Mairi Harper (University of Stirling)
Ronan O'Carroll (University of Stirling)
Rory O'Connor (University of Stirling)

Start Date:

Approved on 09-04-2008


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 (BPs) 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 BPs versus non-bereaved comparisons. The study also aims to identify the mortality risk for BPs and therefore compares death and widowhood status to that of non-BPs. The hypothesis under investigation is that BPs have poorer employment and social class outcomes, higher levels of relationship breakdown, higher mortality risk and more hospital admissions than non-bereaved parents.

BPs are more likely than non-BPs 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 BPs 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 BP 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, BPs 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 study is the first of its kind to use randomly sampled data from the UK population.


Arbuckle, N.W. & DeVries, B. (1995). The long-term effects of later life spousal and parental bereavement on personal functioning, Gerontologist, 35(5), 637-647

Corden, A. (2002). When a child dies - money matter, Illness, Crisis and Loss, 10(2), 125-137

Dyregrov, K. (2004). Bereaved parents' experience of research participation, Social Science & Medicine, 58, 391-400.

Dyregrov, K., Nordanger, D. & Dyregrov, A. (2003). Predictors of psychosocial distress after suicide, SIDS and accidents, Death Studies, 27(2), 143-165

Lang, A., Gottlieb, L. & Amsel, R. (1996). Predictors of husbands' and wives' grief reactions following infant death: the role of marital intimacy, Death Studies, 20, 33-57

Li, J., Hansen, D., Mortensen, P.B. & Olsen, J. (2002). Myocardial infarction in parents who lost a child - a nationwide prospective cohort study in Denmark, Circulation, 106(13), 1634-1639

Li, J., Johansen, C. & Olsen, J. (2003). Cancer survival in parents who lost a child: a nationwide survey in Denmark, British Journal of Cancer, 88(11), 1698-1701

Li, J., Johansen, C. Hansen, D. & Olsen, J. (2002). Cancer incidence in parents who lost a child - A nationwide survey in Denmark, Cancer, 95(10), 2237-2242

Li, J., Johansen, C., Bronnum-Hansen, H., Stenager, E., Koch-Henriksen, N. & Olsen, J. (2004), The risk of multiple sclerosis in bereaved parents - A nationwide cohort study in Denmark, Neurology, 62(5), 726-729

Li, J., Laursen, T.M., Precht, D.H., Olsen, J. & Mortensen, P.B. (2005), Hospitalization for mental illness among parents after the death of a child, New England Journal of Medicine, 352(12), 1190-1196

Li, J., Precht, D.H., Mortensen, P.B. & Olsen, J. (2003). Mortality in parents after death of a child in Denmark: a nationwide follow up study, The Lancet, 361(1), 363-367.

Miller, M.A. & Rahe, R.H. (1997). Life changes scaling for the 1990s. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 43(3), 279-292

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