Grief as a predictor of long-term risk for suicidal ideation and attempts of parentally bereaved children and adolescents

Irwin Sandler, Jenn Yun-Tien, Na Zhang, Sharlene Wolchik, Kara Thieleman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Although children who experience the death of a parent have a heightened risk of suicidality, the long-term associations between grief and suicidality among bereaved youth have yet to be examined. Research is needed to test the specific aspects of grief associated with suicidality, after controlling for other risk factors, in this population. Grief and covariates, including age, gender, parental cause of death, time since parental death, depression, anxiety, internalizing problems, posttraumatic stress symptoms, and child treatment involvement, were assessed at baseline, 6-year, and 15-year follow-ups in a sample of 244 parentally bereaved youth aged 8–16 years. Utilizing multiple grief measures, a bifactor approach was used to identify a general factor and two uncorrelated specific factors: Intrusive Grief Thoughts and Social Detachment/Insecurity. Suicidal thoughts and attempts were assessed at both follow-ups. The Intrusive Grief Thoughts specific factor had a prospective nonlinear association with suicidality at both follow-ups after controlling for all baseline covariates. The nonlinear relation consisted of a large effect, OR > 73 (using the rescaled scores), on the increased risk of suicidality from low to moderate levels of intrusive grief, with no association from moderate to high levels. At 6-year follow-up, the specific Social Detachment/Insecurity factor was significantly associated with suicidality after controlling for covariates. Specific grief factors assessed at different points were associated with suicidal thoughts or attempts among parentally bereaved youth. These findings highlight the significance of specific aspects of child and adolescent grief that have implications for the development of upstream suicide prevention services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1159-1170
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Traumatic Stress
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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