Trajectories of depressive symptoms early in the course of bereavement: Patterns, psychosocial factors and risk of prolonged grief

Marzieh Majd, Michelle A. Chen, Diana A. Chirinos, Ryan L. Brown, Angie S. LeRoy, Kyle W. Murdock, E. Lydia Wu-Chung, Julian F. Thayer, Christopher P. Fagundes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the context of bereavement, little is known about the mechanisms that differentiate normative adjustment patterns from those that may indicate potential psychopathology. This study aimed to replicate and extend previous work by (1) characterizing the trajectories of depressive symptoms from 3 to 12 months after the loss of a spouse, (2) examining whether (a) childhood maltreatment and attachment style predicted distinct depression trajectories, and (b) different depression trajectories were associated with the risk of prolonged grief at 12 months post-loss. Recently bereaved individuals (N = 175) completed self-report assessments at 3, 4, 6, and 12-months post-loss. Trajectories of depressive symptoms were estimated using group-based trajectory modelling. Four distinct trajectories of depressive symptoms were identified: (1) resilience (minimal/no depression across time points; 45%), (2) moderate depression-improved (alleviated to ‘mild’ by 12 months; 31%), (3) severe depression-improved (alleviated to ‘moderate’ by 12 months; 15%), and (4) chronic depression (‘severe’ symptoms across time points; 9%). Higher childhood maltreatment predicted a greater likelihood of belonging to the ‘severe depression-improved’ and ‘chronic depression’ groups than the ‘resilient’ and ‘moderate depression-improved’ groups. Widow(er)s with higher attachment anxiety were more likely to belong to the ‘severe depression-improved’ and ‘chronic depression’ groups than the ‘resilient’ group. The trajectory groups with persistent levels of depressive symptoms up until 6 months were more likely to exhibit prolonged grief at 12 months post-loss. Changes from pre-loss functioning cannot be estimated. Our findings provide insight into the early identification of post-loss prolonged grief.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalStress and Health
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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