Networks of Loss: Relationships Among Symptoms of Prolonged Grief Following Spousal and Parental Loss

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The death of a loved one can trigger a range of emotional, behavioral, motivational and cognitive reactions collectively labeled as “grief.” There has been a recent resurgence of empirical interest in grief reactions, and there is now a general consensus that 7%-10% of bereaved individuals experience intense and chronic reactions termed Prolonged Grief (PG). However, there is ongoing debate about how best to conceptualize the construct. Recent studies have advanced this debate by applying a network, or causal systems approach. Whereas traditional views of psychopathology posit symptoms of disorders reflect the independent actions of latent entities, the network approach argues that the symptoms themselves interact to give rise to the disorder. A network conceptualization offers novel approaches to studying the mechanisms that contribute to PG. To date, however, research has focused only on spousal loss and only used a single archival data set. Therefore, in this paper we apply network analysis to examine relationships among PG symptoms in samples of individuals bereaved by loss of a spouse (Study 1, N = 193) and a parent (Study 2, N = 180). Participants completed the PG-13 and a measure of depression. A comparison test suggested the networks produced from each sample were not reliably different. The strongest link in both networks was between yearning and emotional pain. Meaninglessness was relatively central, whereas avoidance was peripheral in both networks. Findings are discussed with reference to theoretical models and the potential benefits a network approach may hold for understanding relationships between symptoms of PG.

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