Are doctors too quick to prescribe antidepressants to grieving parents?

Categories: Research.

Medical News Today (MNT) reports on a study by Jeffrey Lacasse of 235 bereaved parents who were part of an online support community. The researcher found that 37.4 percent of those participating in the study were prescribed a psychiatric medication to help them cope, with some receiving prescriptions within a week of losing their children.

“This is simply too soon after the loss to reasonably conclude that these women need long-term treatment with antidepressants,” said Lacasse, an assistant professor in the College of Social Work. “Even though our sample is select, the data raise disturbing questions about prescribing practices for grieving parents.”

The study, “Prescribing of Psychiatric Medication to Bereaved Parents Following Perinatal/Neonatal Death: An Observational Study,” conducted with Joanne Cacciatore, a professor of social work at Arizona State University, has been published in the journal Death Studies.

The research also revealed that the clinicians most likely to prescribe this type of medication were obstetrician/gynecologists. He suggests that they should rather refer their patients to mental health practitioners in such tragic and highly emotional situations.

“There is no evidence that says giving antidepressants to parents who have lost a child will help them get over the loss faster than through a grieving process that does not include psychiatric medication”, Lacasse said.

He goes on to say that grief should not be viewed as a mental illness and that it is normal for a parent to experience an extreme state of grief. “If it’s only been 48 hours since a mother lost a child, it would be normal for her to experience an extreme state of grief,” he said. “This is a natural reaction to tragic circumstances, not a mental disorder. To treat it as a mental disorder so soon is contrary to the concept of evidence-based medicine.”

The researchers suggest first using psychosocial interventions such as peer support or psychotherapy with social workers, psychologists and mental health specialists.

Read more about the research on the MNT site