Losing a brother or sister is one of the hardest things that can happen to a child. A recent study done in Sweden and Denmark indicates that children who go through this kind of loss also face an increased risk of death.
The study, published earlier this year in JAMA Pediatrics, tracked all children in Sweden and Denmark from 1973 to 2013. In this period, it found more than 55,000 children who suffered the loss of a sibling. Five hundred and thirty-four people in this group died during the study's run, CBS News reported. This group was also 70 per cent more likely to suffer an early death, according to the New York Times.
This risk was highest the first year after the sibling's death, in same-sex siblings, and in those close together in age, researchers found.
Scientists do think genetics may play a factor. They noted that many of the subjects died of the same cause as their sibling. But the study's authors also noted that emotional stress and grief can also be a factor.
"We also found a much higher mortality risk for suicide among individuals whose deceased siblings died of suicide," reported News.com.au. The study's abstract also says that the surviving children are at higher risk of developing depression and mental disorders. The mental trauma of losing a sibling can also last for many years afterward, another study of children who lost siblings to cancer says.
Surviving children are at higher risk of developing depression and mental disorders.
So what can parents do to help their child get through this huge loss? Start by being honest, according to Parents.com. The site states that parents should avoid saying that the child's brother or sister "went away" or that the family has "lost them." Kids can take these phrases literally and get confused.
Cancer.net, a research and support network for cancer patients and survivors, also has a brief explainer on how children of different ages may react to the death of a loved one.
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