Background: Bereavement is a universal experience, and its association with excess morbidity and mortality is well established. Nevertheless, grief becomes a serious health concern for a relative few. For such individuals, intense grief persists, is distressing and disabling, and may meet criteria as a distinct mental disorder. At present, grief is not recognized as a mental disorder in the DSM-IV or ICD-10. The goal of this study was to determine the psychometric validity of criteria for prolonged grief disorder (PGD) to enhance the detection and potential treatment of bereaved individuals at heightened risk of persistent distress and dysfunction.
Methods and findings: A total of 291 bereaved respondents were interviewed three times, grouped as 0-6, 6-12, and 12-24 mo post-loss. Item response theory (IRT) analyses derived the most informative, unbiased PGD symptoms. Combinatoric analyses identified the most sensitive and specific PGD algorithm that was then tested to evaluate its psychometric validity. Criteria require reactions to a significant loss that involve the experience of yearning (e.g., physical or emotional suffering as a result of the desired, but unfulfilled, reunion with the deceased) and at least five of the following nine symptoms experienced at least daily or to a disabling degree: feeling emotionally numb, stunned, or that life is meaningless; experiencing mistrust; bitterness over the loss; difficulty accepting the loss; identity confusion; avoidance of the reality of the loss; or difficulty moving on with life. Symptoms must be present at sufficiently high levels at least six mo from the death and be associated with functional impairment.
Conclusions: The criteria set for PGD appear able to identify bereaved persons at heightened risk for enduring distress and dysfunction. The results support the psychometric validity of the criteria for PGD that we propose for inclusion in DSM-V and ICD-11. Please see later in the article for Editors' Summary.