Memory, coping strategies and resilience immediately following a loss have been shown to predict the path of a bereaved person’s grief according to new research.
The study, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, also suggested that clinical intervention in the first months following a loss may help individuals to better adapt to their grief.
Bereavement is an inevitable part of human experience and grieving is an important process in adapting to life without a lost loved one.
However, for some individuals the process of mourning continues for longer or takes a more complex path than normal. By identifying which individuals are vulnerable to experiencing a severe reaction to grief it may be possible to design early interventions to improve outcomes.
Dr Kirsten Smith, who led the research, said: “Individuals are three times more likely to take their own life if they have lost a close loved one in the last year. We need more evidence based targeted interventions that facilitate adaptation after loss.”
The study gathered data from 275 bereaved adults in the first year to 18 months following a loss. Participants were asked to complete measures of grief severity, cognitive factors and interpersonal differences.
Researchers then used the data to categorise responses to loss and identified four different classes of grief including three classes of high grief and one of low grief.
They found that parents who had lost a child were particularly vulnerable to experiencing a severe reaction to grief and that it was possible to use cognitive factors to predict membership of the high grief classes. They showed that, by targeting modifiable cognitive factors early in the grieving process, it may be possible to change the way individuals adapt to grief.
Kirsten Smith explained: “Our results suggest that treatments that work to transform the distressing aspects of loss-related memories, social isolation, unhelpful coping strategies such as avoidance and rumination, and the negative meaning of loss that often arises after losing a loved one, have the potential to help reduce post-loss mental health problems.”
The findings have implications for clinical practice and highlight the importance of cognitive predictors in identifying and treating those likely to have a severe reaction to grief.