Peritraumatic Distress and Dissociation in Prolonged Grief and Post-Traumatic Stress Following Violent and Unexpected Deaths

Abstract: This study examined associations between the violence of a loss and the suddenness of a loss and symptom levels of prolonged grief disorder (PGD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the death of a loved one. A further aim was to investigate whether peritraumatic distress (i.e., fear, helplessness, and horror) and peritraumatic dissociation mediate the emotional impact of violent losses and unexpected losses. We obtained self-reported data from 265 individuals bereaved in the previous 3 years by losses due to violent causes (17%) or illness (83%). Outcomes showed that participants who experienced violent losses (due to homicide, suicide, or accident) reported more PGD symptoms and PTSD symptoms compared to those confronted with illness loss. In this latter group, greater perceived unexpectedness was positively associated with PGD severity and PTSD severity. Multiple mediation analyses showed that the impact of violent loss and unexpectedness of the loss on PGD severity and PTSD severity was fully mediated by peritraumatic distress and dissociation; peritraumatic helplessness and peritraumatic dissociation (but not peritraumatic fear and horror) emerged as unique mediators. Findings suggest that both violent and unexpected losses exacerbate postloss psychopathology, which is at least partially because of such losses yielding more intense acute helplessness and dissociative responses. Keywords: dissociation; grief; posttraumatic stress; sudden death; violent death

P.A. Boelen | 2015
In: Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, ISSN 1529-9740 | 16 | 5 | Oct-Dec | 541-550