The role of moderating and mediating factors on the long-term relationship between early parental death and later depression and anxiety
Martin, Harvey S.
MetadataShow full item record
One of the most traumatic events that a child can experience is the death of their parent. Psychologists have long assumed that the death of a parent in childhood leads to depression later in life. However, empirical research that has attempted to substantiate such a link has produced mixed results, and has led to speculation that if such a link exists, it is influenced by a variety of factors. A growing number of researchers have theorized that cognitive factors may play a central, mediating role in the level of depressive feeling years after the death. This study was conducted to examine whether an external locus of control, high levels of hopelessness, assumptions that an individual holds about the world involving meaning, benevolence, or self worth, or perceptions of the individual that they are highly vulnerable, would provide a cognitive pathway by which early parental death becomes translated into later depression and anxiety. It was hypothesized that one or more of these variables would mediate between bereavement status and depression and anxiety. In addition, it was hypothesized that unexpected death would increase levels of depression and anxiety, and would also lead to a more external locus of control, more hopelessness, more negative assumptions, and greater perceived vulnerability. Lastly, it was hypothesized that gender of parent and age of death would interact to predict levels of depression and anxiety. Forty-one participants who were 18 years-old or younger when their parent died were compared to 41 participants from intact families. Participants were matched on ethnicity and age. This study found that a perception of vulnerability to loss or abandonment mediated the relationship between the childhood death of a parent and later levels of depression and anxiety. A non-significant trend was found for bereaved participants who had anticipated the death of their parent to have a more external locus of control, more hopelessness, more negative assumptions about the world, and an increased perceived vulnerability. Lastly, there was a trend of greater depression and anxiety for participants who were between the ages of 11 - 18 when their parent died, but this trend was non-significant.