Death of a sibling increases risk of death by 71 per cent

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The risk is highest in the first year after a sibling’s death, as well as among same-sex sibling pairs or siblings close in age.

Children who have recently lost a sibling may require extra social and health care support to minimise the potential adverse effects. That’s according to the authors of a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics , which found that children who experience the loss of a sibling have an increased risk for mortality in the short and long term.

Analysis of data relating to 55,818 participants who experienced sibling death in childhood revealed that compared with those who did not experience the death of a sibling, the bereaved group had a 71 per cent increased risk of death from all causes. The increased mortality risk after sibling death was seen regardless of the age at bereavement and the cause of death. The magnitude of association was stronger during the first year after sibling death.

“Healthcare professionals should be aware of children’s vulnerability after experiencing sibling death, especially for same-sex sibling pairs and sibling pairs with close age. Social support may help to reduce the level of grief and minimise potential adverse health effects on the bereaved individuals,” the authors concluded.

The analysis did not include data on shared social environment and family characteristics between sibling pairs, which might suggest underlying mechanisms linking sibling death.

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