Background: Forced disappearance is a frequent phenomenon in violent conflicts and regimes, yet little is known about unresolved grief processes as a possible outcome of the disappearance of a loved one. This study investigates prolonged grief disorder (PGD) and its risk factors in a sample of persons who lost a significant other to disappearance as compared with a sample of bereaved individuals, both groups having experienced displacement due to the armed conflict in Colombia.
Method: In a cross-sectional study conducted in four Colombian provinces, 73 persons who lost a significant other to disappearance and 222 bereaved individuals completed measures of PGD (PG-13), depression (HSCL-25), and PTSD (PCL-C) via face-to-face interviews. Trauma- and loss-related variables, including the extent to which significant others of disappeared persons hoped that their loved one was still alive, were assessed.
Results: Results indicated that 23% of participants who lost a significant other to disappearance met criteria for PGD as compared to 31.5% in bereaved participants. No differences were found between the two groups in terms of symptom severity of PGD, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, or traumatic exposure. Regression analysis indicated that, among relatives and friends of disappeared persons, the extent of hope predicted PGD above and beyond depression severity whereas among bereaved persons, PGD was predicted by time since the loss, the number of traumatic events and symptom severity of PTSD and depression.
Limitations: The instruments were not validated for use in Colombia; generalizability of findings is limited.
Conclusion: Forced disappearance is related to prolonged grief reactions, particularly when those left behind maintain hope that the disappeared person is still alive.
Keywords: Armed conflict; Colombia; Forced disappearance; Prolonged grief.
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