Severe bereavement stress during the prenatal and childhood periods and risk of psychosis in later life: population based cohort study
Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:f7679
- K M Abel, professor1,
- H P Heuvelman, doctoral student12,
- L Jörgensen, research associate3,
- C Magnusson, professor3,
- S Wicks, postdoctoral research associate3,
- E Susser, professor4,
- J Hallkvist, postdoctoral research assistant35,
- C Dalman, associate professor3
- Correspondence to: K M Abel email@example.com
- Accepted 16 December 2013
Objective To examine the risk of psychosis associated with severe bereavement stress during the antenatal and postnatal period, between conception to adolescence, and with different causes of death.
Design Population based cohort study.
Setting Swedish national registers including births between 1973 and 1985 and followed-up to 2006.
Participants In a cohort of 1 045 336 Swedish births (1973-85), offspring born to mothers exposed to severe maternal bereavement stress six months before conception or during pregnancy, or exposed to loss of a close family member subsequently from birth to 13 years of age were followed until 2006. Admissions were identified by linkage to national patient registers.
Main outcome measures Crude and adjusted odds ratios for all psychosis, non-affective psychosis, and affective psychosis.
Results Maternal bereavement stress occurring preconception or during the prenatal period was not associated with a significant excess risk of psychosis in offspring (adjusted odds ratio, preconception 1.24, 95% confidence interval 0.96 to 1.62; first trimester 0.95, 0.58 to1.56; second trimester 0.79, 0.46 to 1.33; third trimester 1.14, 0.78 to 1.66). Risks increased modestly after exposure to the loss of a close family member from birth to adolescence for all psychoses (adjusted odds ratio 1.17, 1.04 to 1.32). The pattern of risk was generally similar for non-affective and affective psychosis. Thus estimates were higher after death in the nuclear compared with extended family but remained non-significant for prenatal exposure; the earlier the exposure to death in the nuclear family occurred in childhood (all psychoses: adjusted odds ratio, birth to 2.9 years 1.84, 1.41 to 2.41; 3-6.9 years 1.47, 1.16 to 1.85; 7-12.9 years 1.32, 1.10 to 1.58) and after suicide. Following suicide, risks were especially higher for affective psychosis (birth to 2.9 years 3.33, 2.00 to 5.56; 6.9 years 1.84, 1.04 to 3.25; 7-12.9 years 2.68, 1.84 to 3.92). Adjustment for key confounders attenuated but did not explain associations with risk.
Conclusions Postnatal but not prenatal bereavement stress in mothers is associated with an increased risk of psychosis in offspring. Risks are especially high for affective psychosis after suicide in the nuclear family, an effect that is not explained by family psychiatric history. Future studies are needed to understand possible sources of risk and resilience so that structures can be put in place to support vulnerable children and their families.
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