|Title||A Time of Healing: Can Social Engagement after Bereavement Reduce Trajectories of Depression after the Death of a Child?|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2023|
|Authors||Cha, H, Thomas, PA|
|Journal||J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci|
OBJECTIVES: We work from a stress and life course perspective to examine the mental health of parents who experienced the death of their child. We examine whether mental health eventually returns to pre-bereavement levels and how social engagement after bereavement may shape the recovery process of depressive symptoms.
METHODS: We analyze discontinuous growth curve models to assess the association between a child's death and trajectories of parents' depressive symptoms from the 1998-2016 Health and Retirement Study. The sample includes 16,182 parents aged 50 years and older.
RESULTS: Those who transitioned to bereavement experience an elevation in depressive symptoms and a relatively long recovery time (e.g., seven years) to their pre-bereavement mental health in our findings. However, when engaging in volunteer work after their loss, depressive symptoms reduce more quickly to their pre-bereavement levels. Volunteering offsets up to three years of the negative consequences of child loss.
DISCUSSION: The death of a child is a traumatic event with extensive health consequences, but research should more fully examine the dynamic nature and potential mitigation of these health consequences over time. Our findings expand the temporal lens to encompass healing processes after bereavement, incorporating the importance of social engagement.