Together for Short Lives
Call the Helpline 0808 8088 100

Experience of sibling death in childhood and risk of psychiatric care in adulthood: a national cohort study from Sweden

Journal title
European child & adolescent psychiatry
Publication year
Rostila, M.; Berg, L.; Saarela, J.; Kawachi, I.; Hjern, A.

Studies have found that sibling loss is associated with an increased risk of death from external causes (i.e. suicides, accidents and homicides). Increased psychiatric health problems following bereavement could underlie such an association. We studied the influence of sibling loss during childhood on psychiatric care in young adulthood, adjusting for psychosocial covariates shared by siblings in childhood. A national cohort born in Sweden in 1973-1982 (N = 701,270) was followed prospectively until 2013. Cox proportional hazards models were used to analyse the association between sibling loss during childhood and psychiatric inpatient and outpatient care identified by the Hospital Discharge Register. After adjustment for confounders, the HRs of psychiatric care in men who experienced sibling loss were 1.17 (95% CI 1.07-1.27) while the associations turned non-significant in women after adjustment for family-related psychosocial covariates, HR 1.07 (95% CI 0.99-1.16). An increased risk was found in men bereaved in early childhood (1.22 95% CI 1.07-1.38) and adolescence (1.27 95% CI 1.08-1.48). Among women, loss of a sibling during adolescence was significantly associated with psychiatric care (1.19 95% CI 1.03-1.36). Increased psychiatric health problems following bereavement could underlie the previously found association between sibling loss and mortality from external causes. Family-related psychosocial conditions shared by siblings in childhood may account for the association between sibling death and psychiatric care in adulthood.

Research abstracts