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Key Factors Define 'Prolonged Grief'

Identification of the disorder will help professionals treat the bereaved, experts say

TUESDAY, Aug. 4 (HealthDay News) -- In an effort to help people vulnerable to prolonged grief disorder, researchers have developed an accurate process to diagnose the mental condition so it can be officially recognized and treated by medical professionals.

Prolonged grief disorder is thought to exist when a person becomes stuck for months or years in what mental health professionals would consider an otherwise normal grief and loss cycle, and are unable to move on in their lives. While often discussed in recent decades, professionals have differed on criteria, symptoms and how to diagnose.

Prolonged grief disorder is not recognized in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, which are the standard guides for diagnostic criteria.

In the study appearing online Aug. 3 in the journal PLoS Medicine, researchers from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston developed and tested an algorithmic system for diagnosing the condition based on long-term symptoms that were agreed upon by experts in bereavement, mood and anxiety disorders. These symptoms -- including suffering caused by yearning for the deceased, and at least five of nine other symptoms, such as emotional numbness -- need to have existed for at least six months and impair the person's functionality.

The authors say their findings confirm the disorder is "a distinct mental disorder on the grounds that it is a clinically significant form of psychological distress associated with substantial disability."

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about loss, grief and bereavement.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: PLOS Medicine, news release, Aug. 3, 2009

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