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Prolonged Grief Disorder In Children And Adolescents

prolonged grief disorder in children and adolescents, PGD

Current research suggests that children who experience the death of a loved one may develop a syndrome known as prolonged grief disorder (PGD); sometimes known as ‘complicated grief’ or ‘traumatic grief.’

What Are The Main Symptoms Of Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD)?

The main symptoms of PGD are as follows:

    • difficulty in accepting the reality of the death
    • a strong yearning for the deceased which disrupts everyday life
    • feelings of extreme bitterness/anger
    • detachment
    • persistent feelings of life being ’empty’ and ‘meaningless’
    • inability to trust others following the loss
    • problems with moving forward in life
    • emotional ‘deadness’/’numbness’
    • persistent feelings of being ‘stunned’ and ‘dazed’
    • a profound sense of loss devastating view of self, life in general and the future
  • daily functioning impaired for over six months from the date of the loss

Although research into PGD in children and adolescents is at an early stage, findings to date suggest that the adverse symptoms of the disorder are distinct from those of depression, anxiety and PTSD (although there is overlap) thus legitimizing the classification of PGD as a valid diagnosis in its own right.

In other words, it is currently thought that PGD in children and adolescents has symptoms in common with depression, anxiety and PTSD but is a distinct and separate disorder.

In What Way Does The Experience Of Grief In The Individual Suffering From PGD Differ From The Experience Of Non-Pathological (‘Normal’) Grief?

    •  it is more intense
    • it is more tenacious
    • it results in greater disruption of functioning and of day-to-day living
    • it reduces the bereaved individual’s sense of self-worth and value as an individual
    • it deeply undermines the bereaved individual’s faith that s/he will ever be able to experience happiness again
    • it causes greater feelings of insecurity / of being ‘unsafe’
  • it has a greater adverse effect on the bereaved individual’s sense of identity

What Puts A Young Person At Risk Of Developing PGD?

Research suggests that risk factors include the following:

  • the deceased is a parent or other relative with whom the child previously enjoyed a close emotional bond
  • the bereaved child/young person suffers from separation anxiety
  • the bereaved child/young person had an emotional dependence on the deceased
  • the death was unexpected and/or the child/young person did not have the opportunity to ’emotionally prepare’ for the death
  • the child/young person has controlling parents

Controversy :

Some schools of thought take issue with the diagnosis of PGD, arguing that grief is a normal human reaction/emotion and should not, therefore, be medicalized or pathologized (i.e. classified as a mental disorder). However, as the majority of those diagnosed with PGD can be helped by treatment it is clearly beneficial to these individuals that the diagnosis exists.


Research into effective treatments are at a relatively early stage but, currently, it suggests that a useful therapy is :

  • psychotherapy that has been specifically tailored to treat PGD. A useful link relating to this can be found by clicking here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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