The inconclusiveness of the literature on the role of loss of parent in influencing psychiatric disorder in adulthood is well known. A number of reasons involving sampling, location and other methodological features, are given to account for these contradictory findings. A study specially designed to cope with these features is then described and basic results are reported. These indicate that, in a sample of women aged 18–65, loss of mother before the age of 17, either by death or by separation of one year or more, was associated with clinical depression in the year of interview. Loss of father by death was in no way associated with current depression, but separation from father showed a trend which, however, did not reach statistical significance. Control for other possible confounding factors did not change this patterning of results; these were further supported when psychiatric episodes earlier in adulthood were examined. Examination of the caregiving arrangements in childhood suggests that it is ‘lack of care’, defined in terms of neglect rather than simply hostile parental behaviour, which accounts for the raised rate of depression. Such ‘lack of care’ is more frequent after loss of mother than after loss of father.