BACKGROUND: Around 9% to 20% of bereaved individuals experience symptoms of complicated grief (CG) that are associated with significant distress and impairment. A major issue is whether CG represents a distinctive nosographic entity, independent from other mental disorders, particularly major depression (MD), and the role of symptoms of adult separation anxiety. The purpose of this study was to compare the clinical features of patients with CG versus a sample of healthy control subjects, with particular focus on adult separation anxiety and lifetime mood spectrum symptoms. METHODS: A total of 53 patients with CG and 50 healthy control subjects were consecutively recruited and assessed by means of the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Axis-I disorders (SCID-I/P), Inventory of Complicated Grief (ICG), Adult Separation Anxiety Questionnaire (ASA-27), Work and Social Adjustment Scale (WSAS) and Mood Spectrum-Self Report (MOODS-SR) lifetime version. RESULTS: Patients with CG reported significantly higher scores on the MOODS-SR, ASA-27, and WSAS with respect to healthy control subjects. The scores on the ASA-27 were significantly associated with the MOODS-SR depressive and manic components amongst both patients and healthy control subjects, with a stronger association in the latter. CONCLUSIONS: A major limitation of the present study is the small sample size that may reduce the generalizability of the results. Moreover, lifetime MOODS-SR does not provide information about the temporal sequence of the manic or depressive symptoms and the loss. The frequent comorbidity with MD and the association with both depressive and manic lifetime symptoms do not support the independence of CG from mood disorders. In our patients, CG is associated with high levels of separation anxiety in adulthood. However, the presence of lifetime mood instability, as measured by the frequent presence of depressive and hypomanic lifetime symptoms, suggests that cyclothymia might represent the common underlying feature characterizing the vulnerability to both adult separation anxiety and CG.
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