People who have survived a distressing incident that caused a loved one to die often suffer with daily grief for years, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the American Psychological Association have found that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common amongst those who have survived a trauma.

A sense of constant sorrow and struggling to manage are typical symptoms of PTSD.

Senior author, Dr Kristin Alve Glad said: “Grief is a normal response to the loss of someone close, but traumatic losses may severely harm survivors for years.

“Our findings suggest that when treating trauma survivors, targeting symptoms of PTSD early might help them avoid complicated grief later on.”

Usually, symptoms of grief disappear over time, but they tend to remain present or aggravate in those who have witnessed a traumatic loss, the study reports.

Dr Glad stated: “Complicated grief has been defined as a persistent, intense yearning, longing and sadness, usually accompanied by insistent thoughts or images of the deceased and a sense of disbelief or an inability to accept the painful reality of the person’s death.”

The team of academics questioned 275 survivors who lost a loved one during the 2011 terrorist attack on the Norwegian Island, Utøya.

Each participant was questioned three times after the terrorist attack and were quizzed about their PTSD and grief symptoms, such as negative thoughts and loneliness.

They found that those suffering with PTSD symptoms were more likely to be battling with ‘complicated grief’ as well.

Dr Glad said: “The fact that we found that PTSD symptoms predicted complicated grief reactions at a subsequent time point, but complicated grief did not predict the development of PTSD, is interesting, because it suggests that targeting PTSD symptoms may hinder later development of complicated grief.

“This may have important implications for clinicians working with bereaved trauma survivors.”

The full research analysis is now available in the journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy.

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