Also referred to as persistent complex bereavement disorder, CG involves prolonged mourning over a lost loved one coupled with intense yearnings and frequent thoughts of the deceased. CG shares characteristics with major depression and is often diagnosed and treated as such, but this may be hindering optimal care for these patients.
A team at Columbia University led by M. Katherine Shear, M.D., enrolled 151 adults aged 50 and up classified as having CG and compared a targeted CG therapy (CGT) to interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), a well-known and proven depression treatment. CGT combines elements of IPT along with other techniques aimed at engaging and motivating the patient.
CGT proved quite effective, with over 70 percent of participants showing a response after 16 treatment sessions, compared with 32 percent who received IPT. CGT also lowered the overall illness severity, with only 35 percent of CGT participants remaining moderately ill or worse after their sessions, compared with 64 percent of IPT patients.
The authors noted that CG remains an underrecognized public health problem, and one that will continue to grow as the U.S. population ages. A recent analysis found that around 9 percent of bereaved older women will experience CG.
The DSM-5 lists persistent complex bereavement disorder under its "Conditions for Future Study."
To read more about the potential for mental problems following the loss of a loved one, see the Psychiatric News article “Bereavement Can Set Stage for Several Mental Illnesses.”