Background and Objectives: The death of a child may be one of the most stressful events for parents to experience. This study aims to assess how the death of a child prior to midlife is associated with the mental health of parents in later life, and how this association is contingent upon religious belief in a divine plan. Research Design and Methods: Using data from aging parents (aged 65 and older) in the six waves (2006-2016) of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), we conducted negative binomial regression analyses to examine the main effects of the death of a child prior to midlife on late-life depressive symptoms, and the buffering effect of religious beliefs on this main effect (N = 8,248). Growth curve modeling was used to analyze the trajectories of depressive symptoms (Obs. = 31,088). Results: Experiencing the death of a child prior to midlife is positively associated with depressive symptoms among older adults. Yet, the association is mitigated among respondents who exhibit a high level of belief in a divine plan at baseline. Further, a gradual decline in the number of depressive symptoms over time was observed among the bereaved parents who reported a high level of belief in a divine plan. Discussion and Implications: Belief in a divine plan has a protective effect on older adults who cope with the aftermath of child loss. The findings in the study advance our knowledge about the complex interrelationships among stress, religion, and mental health in later life.
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All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Phychiatric Mental Health
- Geriatrics and Gerontology
- Psychiatry and Mental health