Public stigma towards prolonged grief disorder: Does diagnostic labeling matter?

Judith Gonschor*, Maarten C. Eisma, Antonia Barke, Bettina K. Doering

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
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The recent introduction of prolonged grief disorder (PGD) as a diagnostic category may cause negative social reactions (i.e. public stigma). Vignette experiments demonstrate that persons with both PGD symptoms and a PGD diagnosis elicit more public stigma than persons who experience integrated grief. However, the strength of the influence of the diagnosis itself remains unclear: We aimed to clarify if the diagnostic label PGD produces additional public stigma beyond PGD symptoms. We further compared whether public stigma varies between the label PGD and the label major depressive episode (MDE) (when PGD symptoms are present) and if gender of the bereaved person influences public stigma or moderates the aforementioned effects. Eight-hundred fifty-two participants (77% female; Mage = 32.6 years, SD = 13.3) were randomly assigned to read online one of eight vignettes describing either a bereaved male or female, with PGD symptoms and PGD diagnosis; PGD symptoms and MDE diagnosis; PGD symptoms and no diagnosis, or no PGD symptoms and no diagnosis (i.e., integrated grief). Following the vignettes, participants indicated which negative characteristics they ascribed to the person, their emotional reactions, and preferred social distance from the person. People with PGD symptoms and PGD (or MDE) diagnosis were attributed more negative characteristics, and elicited more negative emotions and a stronger desire for social distance than people with integrated grief. However, public stigma did not differ for people with both PGD symptoms and diagnosis compared to people only experiencing PGD symptoms. Gender of the bereaved only had an influence on desired social distance, which was larger towards men. Helping severely distressed bereaved people (regardless of diagnostic status) cope with negative social reactions may help them adapt to bereavement. Results demonstrate that the experience of severe grief reactions, yet not a diagnostic label per se, causes public stigma.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0237021
Number of pages20
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept-2020

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