Death of adult children in traffic accidents

Stephen B. Shanfield, Barbara J. Swain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The loss of adult children after traffic accidents is relatively common. Bereavement under these circumstances, however, has been little studied. Forty predominantly midlife parents (20 men and 20 women) of predominantly young adult children (27 men and 13 women) who died in traffic accidents were studied 25.6 months after the death. The parents completed the Symptom Checklist 90, the Beck Depression Inventory, and a Bereavement Questionnaire which sought information about the parent, the child, the rest of the family, and the relationship between them. It was found that the parents continued to grieve intensely and had higher than expected levels of psychiatric symptoms as well as increased health complaints. Some parents were more at risk for problems in the bereavement period. Those with unstable families who had ambivalent relationships with their children and whose children were perceived to have had problems at the time of the accident, had more guilt and increased psychiatric symptoms. Parents who had prior bereavement experiences seem to have been protected from higher levels of distress. Additionally, being a mother, losing a daughter, losing children who live at home, losing children born earlier in the birth order, and losing children in single car, single driver accidents seems to portend a more difficult bereavement. This is an important area for further study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)533-538
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Nervous and Mental Disease
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1984
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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