Major Depression or Uncomplicated Bereavement? A Follow-up of Youth Exposed to Suicide

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To determine whether the depressive reactions experienced by youth exposed to suicide were uncomplicated bereavement or major depression by examining the longitudinal risk of recurrent major depression.


The 121 friends and acquaintances of 26 adolescent suicide victims were followed up 1 to 18 months after an initial interview that took place around 6 months after the death of the suicide victim. A demographically similar group of 138 unexposed controls was also followed up.


The median duration of depression in the 37 subjects who became depressed after exposure was 8 months. The exposed group, compared with controls, had a higher rate of incident depression (RR = 1.7, 95% CI = 1.0–2.8) during the follow-up period, even after adjustment for previous history of depression and other risk factors for depression. Within the group of exposed subjects, the rate of depression on follow-up was highest in those who developed a depressive disorder before exposure to suicide, intermediate in those who developed depression after exposure, and lowest in those who were not depressed at the first interview after exposure. There was no evidence of an increased incidence of suicide attempts in the exposed group relative to the unexposed controls on follow-up.


The depressive reactions observed in youth exposed to suicide are most consistent with major depressive episodes on the basis of course and risk of recurrence. Exposure to suicide was associated with an increased risk of recurrent depression but not with an increased long-term risk of suicidal behavior.

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