Rates and risks for prolonged grief disorder in a sample of orphaned and widowed genocide survivors

Schaal, Susanne; Jacob, Nadja; Dusingizemungu, Jean-Pierre; Elbert, Thomas
January 2010
BMC Psychiatry;2010, Vol. 10, p55
Academic Journal
Background: The concept of Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD) has been defined in recent years by Prigerson and co-workers, who have developed and empirically tested consensus and diagnostic criteria for PGD. Using these most recent criteria defining PGD, the aim of this study was to determine rates of and risks for PGD in survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide who had lost a parent and/or the husband before, during or after the 1994 events. Methods: The PG-13 was administered to 206 orphans or half orphans and to 194 widows. A regression analysis was carried out to examine risk factors of PGD. Results: 8.0% (n = 32) of the sample met criteria for PGD with an average of 12 years post-loss. All but one person had faced multiple losses and the majority indicated that their grief-related loss was due to violent death (70%). Grief was predicted mainly by time since the loss, by the violent nature of the loss, the severity of symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the importance given to religious/spiritual beliefs. By contrast, gender, age at the time of bereavement, bereavement status (widow versus orphan), the number of different types of losses reported and participation in the funeral ceremony did not impact the severity of prolonged grief reactions. Conclusions: A significant portion of the interviewed sample continues to experience grief over interpersonal losses and unresolved grief may endure over time if not addressed by clinical intervention. Severity of grief reactions may be associated with a set of distinct risk factors. Subjects who lose someone through violent death seem to be at special risk as they have to deal with the loss experience as such and the traumatic aspects of the loss. Symptoms of PTSD may hinder the completion of the mourning process. Religious beliefs may facilitate the mourning process and help to find meaning in the loss. These aspects need to be considered in the treatment of PGD.


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