Psychological effects of parental death

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Psychological effects of parental death
Psychological effects during grief can prevent normal social functioning. (Karl Weatherly/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The death of a parent, however young or old the child, is always a difficult time. The death prompts strong feelings of sadness and the start of the grieving process. Grieving for a parent is natural and can involve a variety of emotions and psychological effects. The grieving process takes time and the intensity of feelings and the incidence of psychological effects varies between individuals.

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Feeling sad at the death of a parent is natural. However, sometimes the sadness can tip over into depression. Besides sadness, clinical depression can also manifest itself in feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, lack of motivation, and an inability to find enjoyment or make decisions.


Feelings of low self-esteem often accompany the death of a parent. As the primary caregiver in a child's life, the parent has been a supportive presence, and as such, the lack of that presence can cause the child to question their self-worth.


A child of any age can feel guilt at the death of a parent. He may feel partly responsible for the death, for something he either did or didn't do. Feelings of guilt can also manifest themselves in a sense that the child did not say or do something they wish they had before the death, or remembering words or events that hurt either party when the parent was alive. Felling guilty at parental death is a very common psychological effect.


Anxiety is a reasonably common psychological effect in children who experience the death of a parent. They become anxious about the future, and who will provide care for them. Children may also experience anxiety about the prospect of losing the remaining parent or the individual who becomes their primary caregiver following parental death.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Anxiety can become so severe as to enter the acute stage known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This condition is not usually apparent in children whose parent has died after an illness or from old age, but may manifest if the parent was killed in an accident or crime. The most common symptom of PTSD is continually reliving the event, through flashbacks, nightmares and mental images.

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