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Optimizing the clinical utility of four proposed criteria for a persistent and impairing grief disorder by emphasizing core, rather than associated symptoms

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 March 2019

Stephen J. Cozza*
Affiliation:
Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, BethesdaMD20814, USA
M. Katherine Shear
Affiliation:
School of Social Work, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
Charles F. Reynolds III
Affiliation:
University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Joscelyn E. Fisher
Affiliation:
Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, BethesdaMD20814, USA
Jing Zhou
Affiliation:
Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, BethesdaMD20814, USA
Andreas Maercker
Affiliation:
University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
Naomi Simon
Affiliation:
New York University, New York, NY, USA
Christine Mauro
Affiliation:
Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
Natalia Skritskaya
Affiliation:
School of Social Work, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
Sidney Zisook
Affiliation:
University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA, USA
Barry Lebowitz
Affiliation:
University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA, USA
Colleen Gribbin Bloom
Affiliation:
School of Social Work, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
Carol S. Fullerton
Affiliation:
Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, BethesdaMD20814, USA
Robert J. Ursano
Affiliation:
Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, BethesdaMD20814, USA
*
Author for correspondence: Stephen J. Cozza, E-mail: stephen.cozza@usuhs.edu
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Abstract

Background

Distinguishing a disorder of persistent and impairing grief from normative grief allows clinicians to identify this often undetected and disabling condition. As four diagnostic criteria sets for a grief disorder have been proposed, their similarities and differences need to be elucidated.

Methods

Participants were family members bereaved by US military service death (N = 1732). We conducted analyses to assess the accuracy of each criteria set in identifying threshold cases (participants who endorsed baseline Inventory of Complicated Grief ⩾30 and Work and Social Adjustment Scale ⩾20) and excluding those below this threshold. We also calculated agreement among criteria sets by varying numbers of required associated symptoms.

Results

All four criteria sets accurately excluded participants below our identified clinical threshold (i.e. correctly excluding 86–96% of those subthreshold), but they varied in identification of threshold cases (i.e. correctly identifying 47–82%). When the number of associated symptoms was held constant, criteria sets performed similarly. Accurate case identification was optimized when one or two associated symptoms were required. When employing optimized symptom numbers, pairwise agreements among criteria became correspondingly ‘very good’ (κ = 0.86–0.96).

Conclusions

The four proposed criteria sets describe a similar condition of persistent and impairing grief, but differ primarily in criteria restrictiveness. Diagnostic guidance for prolonged grief disorder in International Classification of Diseases, 11th Edition (ICD-11) functions well, whereas the criteria put forth in Section III of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) are unnecessarily restrictive.

Type
Original Articles
Creative Commons
Creative Common License - CCCreative Common License - BY
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019

Introduction

There is consensus that a clinical condition of unremitting and functionally impairing grief exists in a highly-impacted minority of the population bereaved by natural causes (Lundorff et al., Reference Lundorff, Holmgren, Zachariae, Farver-Vestergaard and O'Connor2017), with higher rates (14–76%) for those suddenly or violently (by trauma or disaster) bereaved of young loved ones (Kristensen et al., Reference Kristensen, Weisæth and Heir2012). Symptoms include persistent yearning, longing and sorrow with intense emotional pain, loneliness in the absence of the loved one, excessive avoidance of reminders, rumination over troubling aspects of the loss and prolonged difficulty regulating emotional pain, sometimes remaining years after the death and often going undetected (Forstmeier and Maercker, Reference Forstmeier and Maercker2007; American Psychiatric Association, 2013; World Health Organization, 2015). This disorder, variably referred to as complicated grief (CG), persistent complex bereavement disorder (PCBD) or prolonged grief disorder (PGD), results in significant functional impairment, and has been distinguished from other mental disorders, including major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, in its phenomenology (Prigerson et al., Reference Prigerson, Bierhals, Kasl and Reynolds1996) and treatment response (Shear, Reference Shear2015; Shear et al., Reference Shear, Reynolds, Simon, Zisook, Wang, Mauro, Duan, Lebowitz and Skritskaya2016).

Given this condition's impact on health and functioning (Lannen et al., Reference Lannen, Wolfe, Prigerson, Onelov and Kreicbergs2008; Buckley et al., Reference Buckley, Sunari, Marshall, Bartrop, McKinley and Tofler2012) and its response to grief-specific interventions (Bryant et al., Reference Bryant, Kenny, Joscelyne, Rawson, Maccallum, Cahill, Hopwood, Aderka and Nickerson2014; Shear, Reference Shear2015), acceptable criteria must be accurate in identifying cases that are likely to respond to available treatment. In 1997, Horowitz and coworkers presented the first criteria for CG, and four sets of alternative criteria have since been proposed. Prigerson et al. (Reference Prigerson, Horowitz, Jacobs, Parkes, Aslan, Goodkin, Raphael, Marwit, Wortman, Neimeyer and Bonanno2009) derived criteria for PGD (PGDPLOS*) using item response theory and combinatorics analyzing (*The acronym PLOS refers to the peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science since 2006.) data collected from a community-based sample of bereaved widows (n = 317) in the Yale Bereavement Study. CG criteria were derived from a large sample of patients (n = 782) whose chief complaint was prolonged and impairing grief (Shear et al., Reference Shear, Simon, Wall, Zisook, Neimeyer, Duan, Reynolds, Lebowitz, Sung, Ghesquiere and Gorscak2011; Simon et al., Reference Simon, Wall, Keshaviah, Dryman, LeBlanc and Shear2011). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum, Posttraumatic, and Dissociative Disorders Work Group (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) created provisional criteria for a newly-named disorder, PCBD, labeling it a ‘condition for further study’. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) workgroup for trauma and stress disorders developed a consensus guideline for a condition also called PGD (ICD-11PGD) proposed for inclusion in the upcoming International Classification of Diseases, 11th Edition (ICD-11) (World Health Organization, 2015). Despite their shared name, ICD-11PGD differs from PGDPLOS in important ways (Mauro et al., Reference Mauro, Reynolds, Maercker, Skritskaya, Simon, Zisook, Lebowitz, Cozza and Shear2018).

Two previous publications examined the clinical utility of PCBD, PGDPLOS, and CG criteria. Cozza et al. (Reference Cozza, Fisher, Mauro, Zhou, Ortiz, Skritskaya, Wall, Fullerton, Ursano and Shear2016) conducted a large community survey study (n = 1732) of family members bereaved by US military deaths for more than 1 year. They identified those with clinically significant grief symptoms (cases, n = 260) persisting longer than 1 year, and those clearly free of those symptoms (non-cases, n = 675). The authors determined the conditional probability of accurate inclusion of cases and exclusion of non-cases using CG, PGDPLOS, and PCBD criteria among both groups. Findings showed that the probability of accurate case inclusion using PCBD and PGDPLOS criteria was significantly lower (53% and 59%, respectively) than using CG (92%) criteria. All criteria accurately excluded non-cases. This study focused on accurate identification of cases and non-cases, and excluded from the analyses individuals with moderate levels of grief symptoms (ICG > 20, but <30; n = 797). We have since received questions from colleagues regarding the performance of the different criteria in this ambiguous, subthreshold group (Smid and Boelen, Reference Smid and Boelen2016; Maciejewski and Prigerson, Reference Maciejewski and Prigerson2017). Therefore, we have conducted the current analyses using the full data set.

Mauro et al. (Reference Mauro, Shear, Reynolds, Simon, Zisook, Skritskaya, Wang, Lebowitz, Duan, First and Ghesquiere2017) conducted a similar comparison of PCBD, PGDPLOS, and CG criteria performance in a clinical sample of bereaved individuals seeking help for impairing grief (n = 326) or for mood or anxiety disorders (n = 86). Despite notable differences in samples and some difference in determination of caseness, results were strikingly similar to Cozza et al. (Reference Cozza, Fisher, Mauro, Zhou, Ortiz, Skritskaya, Wall, Fullerton, Ursano and Shear2016). The conditional probability of case identification using PGDPLOS and PCBD was 60% and 70% of cases, respectively, whereas, CG identified nearly all cases. All criteria excluded bereaved help-seeking individuals without persistent grief. Neither Cozza et al. (Reference Cozza, Fisher, Mauro, Zhou, Ortiz, Skritskaya, Wall, Fullerton, Ursano and Shear2016) nor Mauro et al. (Reference Mauro, Shear, Reynolds, Simon, Zisook, Skritskaya, Wang, Lebowitz, Duan, First and Ghesquiere2017) examined the performance of the proposed ICD-11PGD guidelines. A separate case-controlled field study that examined the use of the ICD-11PGD guideline by clinicians suggests it can be used reliably (Keeley et al., Reference Keeley, Reed, Roberts, Evans, Robles, Matsumoto, Brewin, Cloitre, Perkonigg, Rousseau and Gureje2016).

Maciejewski et al. (Reference Maciejewski, Maercker, Boelen and Prigerson2016) presented analyses of sensitivity, specificity, and positive predictive power of PCBD, ICD-11PGD, and CG criteria by reanalyzing the Yale Bereavement Study data while using their previously analyzed results as a criterion standard. Employing this questionably tautological method, they found PCBD criteria had high sensitivity, specificity, and positive predictive power. Of particular importance, in the absence of a ‘gold standard’, they mathematically derived a criterion standard that has never been tested among individuals who present with clinically significant grief symptoms beyond 1 year post-death. Additionally, their algorithm for the ICD-11PGD guideline required more associated symptoms than recommended by the WHO proposal (World Health Organization, 2015). The authors concluded that PGDPLOS, ICD-11PGD, and PCBD criteria identified ‘a single diagnostic entity’, but that CG was substantively different (Maciejewski et al., Reference Maciejewski, Maercker, Boelen and Prigerson2016). Notably, the restrictiveness of Maciejewski et al.’s (Reference Maciejewski, Maercker, Boelen and Prigerson2016) operationalized ICD-11PGD criteria and their lack of a clinically relevant criterion standard are methodological limitations that call their conclusions into question.

Proposed criteria share similar core symptoms (e.g. yearning, longing and preoccupation), yet differ in the number of associated symptoms required to meet diagnostic threshold (i.e. six of 12 for PCBD; five of nine for PGDPLOS; two of eight for CG; and one of seven for ICDPGD; descriptions of required core and associated symptoms for each proposed criteria set are provided in online Supplementary Table 1). All criteria sets require that significant associated distress or impairment also be present. A confusing array of claims about differences among proposed criteria has made it difficult to develop consensus with respect to which are best suited to be employed by diagnostic systems, such as DSM-5 (Forstmeier and Maercker, Reference Forstmeier and Maercker2007; Maciejewski and Prigerson, Reference Maciejewski and Prigerson2017; Reynolds et al., Reference Reynolds, Cozza and Shear2017), which is primarily intended for use by clinicians. In contrast, we hypothesized that proposed criteria sets share more commonality than differences and that observed differences in their ability to identify clinically significant persistent impairing grief is likely to be accounted for by differences in criteria restrictiveness, as reflected in greater numbers of required symptoms. Supportive of this hypothesis, we previously reported that by reducing the number of required associated symptoms, the ability of PCBD criteria to identify cases was significantly improved (93%) while still accurately excluding 96% of non-cases (Cozza et al., Reference Cozza, Fisher, Mauro, Zhou, Ortiz, Skritskaya, Wall, Fullerton, Ursano and Shear2016). This finding is consistent with Hyman (Reference Hyman2010), who warned that ‘highly specified lists of operationalized criteria trades interrater reliability for the exclusion of a significant number of individuals who by other measures would be counted as affected (p. 166)’. We agree that highly restrictive criteria are likely to over-specify the disorder they intend to define, limiting their clinical utility rather than assisting clinicians in their day-to-day diagnostic and treatment decisions.

Accordingly, the objective of the current report is to examine similarities and differences in performance among proposed criteria sets using a series of analyses within our full community sample of bereaved military family members. We aim to inform the development of clinically meaningful consensus criteria for a persistent grief disorder to be included in DSM-5.1. Specifically, we hypothesized that different proposed criteria identify greater or lesser numbers of a single condition rather than different grief-related conditions (as suggested by Maciejewski et al., Reference Maciejewski, Maercker, Boelen and Prigerson2016). We further expected that criteria restrictiveness (i.e. numbers of required associated symptoms) determine differential criteria performance, and we explored what would be an optimal number of associated symptoms for use by clinicians.

Method

Study sample

Data were derived from the National Military Family Bereavement Study, a study of the impact of military service member death on family members (http://www.militarysurvivorstudy.org). Participants provided informed consent after receiving a description of the study and included surviving parents, spouses/partners, siblings, and adult children (some of whom may have been minors at the time of death) of service members in the US military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard) who died by all circumstances of death (i.e. combat, accident, suicide, homicide/terrorism, illness, undetermined) since 11 September 2001. Participants were recruited through grief support organizations, online advertisements, and word-of-mouth. Consistent with proposed criteria sets, only family members who completed assessments more than 1 year after the death were included in the current analyses (N = 1732).

Measures

The following instruments were used in the present analysis:

  1. (1) Complicated Grief Questionnaire (CGQ) is a slightly modified self-report version of the Structured Clinical Interview for Complicated Grief (Bui et al., Reference Bui, Mauro, Robinaugh, Skritskaya, Wang, Gribbin, Ghesquiere, Horenstein, Duan, Reynolds and Zisook2015), which is a valid and reliable instrument that can be used to generate a diagnosis using any of the four proposed criteria. The CGQ differs from the Structured Clinical Interview for Complicated Grief in that it has 26 rather than 31 items and in utilizing a five-point Likert scale (0 = ‘never’; 1 = ‘rarely’; 2 = ‘sometimes’; 3 = ‘often’; and 4 = ‘very often’).

  2. (2) Inventory of Complicated Grief (ICG) is a 19-item self-report measure of clinically impairing grief symptom severity (Prigerson et al., Reference Prigerson, Maciejewski, Reynolds, Bierhals, Newsom, Fasiczka, Frank, Doman and Miller1995). The ICG has been widely used as a screening tool to determine severity of clinically impairing grief. A cutoff score of ⩾30 (Cozza et al., Reference Cozza, Fisher, Mauro, Zhou, Ortiz, Skritskaya, Wall, Fullerton, Ursano and Shear2016) has been used as a conservative threshold to identify clinically significant cases.

  3. (3) Work and Social Adjustment Scale (WSAS) is a five-item, reliable, and valid self-report measure of functioning (Mundt et al., Reference Mundt, Marks, Shear and Greist2002). It has been used in several clinical populations with a reliable cutoff for moderate-to-severe clinical impairment ⩾20. Participants were specifically requested to rate how different areas of functioning ‘are impaired because of your grief’.

In addition, participants were asked to describe their demographics (e.g. age, gender, race), relationship to the deceased (i.e. parent, spouse/partner, sibling, or child), and cause of death of their military service family member (i.e. combat-related, accidental, suicide, homicide, terrorism, illness, or other).

Determination of clinical and subthreshold samples

We employed two widely-used and well-validated measures (ICG and WSAS) to select clinical cases and subthreshold participants. Conditional probabilities of clinical case inclusion and subthreshold exclusion using the PCBD, PGDPLOS, and CG criteria, and the ICD-11PGD guideline were then determined. Our multidimensional approach, using both a measure of grief symptom severity (ICG) and of grief-associated functional impairment (WSAS), to define clinical cases increases the likelihood that we identified a group of individuals with clinically significant symptoms requiring clinical intervention. Although there is considerable evidence that an ICG score >25 is associated with a range of negative outcomes (e.g. Prigerson et al., Reference Prigerson, Maciejewski, Reynolds, Bierhals, Newsom, Fasiczka, Frank, Doman and Miller1995, Reference Prigerson, Bierhals, Kasl and Reynolds1996, Boelen et al., Reference Boelen, van den Bout and de Keijser2003), we used a more rigorous definition of caseness (ICG ⩾30; which has also been employed in treatment studies) (e.g. Shear et al., Reference Shear, Reynolds, Simon, Zisook, Wang, Mauro, Duan, Lebowitz and Skritskaya2016), to ensure inclusion of only those participants who were unequivocally disordered. Although clinically significant functional impairment has been associated with WSAS ⩾10, we required that cases endorsed WSAS ⩾20, which has been considered to indicate moderate-to-severe functional impairment in studies of mood, anxiety, and eating disorders (Mundt et al., Reference Mundt, Marks, Shear and Greist2002; Mataix-Cols et al., Reference Mataix-Cols, Cowley, Hankins, Schneider, Bachofen, Kenwright, Gega, Cameron and Marks2005; Tchanturia et al., Reference Tchanturia, Hambrook, Curtis, Jones, Lounes, Fenn, Keyes, Stevenson and Davies2013).

We used the multidimensional criterion of ICG ⩾30 and WSAS ⩾ 20 to divide the sample. We note that this threshold is conservative, and it is possible to have clinically significant symptoms below this threshold, but we believe by using this dividing point, we can test whether proposed criteria can adequately identify those in the sample who almost certainly are suffering from persistent impairing grief. It should be necessary (though not sufficient) for a clinically useful criteria set to identify these individuals. To determine whether this threshold affected criteria performance, we re-ran analyses with varying combinations of threshold requirements for caseness [i.e. ICG (⩾20; ⩾25; ⩾30) and WSAS (⩾15; ⩾20)].

Applying criteria sets

Our sample included participants who had been bereaved more than 1 year from any cause (i.e. combat, accident, suicide, terrorism/homicide, illness, and unknown to participant), thus meeting time requirements for all criteria sets. Symptom requirements for each criteria set were assessed by matching CGQ item responses to the criterion requirements. Details about how we matched CGQ items to PCBD, PGDPLOS, and CG criteria sets are provided in Cozza et al. (Reference Cozza, Fisher, Mauro, Zhou, Ortiz, Skritskaya, Wall, Fullerton, Ursano and Shear2016). Table 1 shows how we matched CGQ items to the ICD-11PGD guideline. As described in our previous work, individual symptoms were considered present if at least one of the matched Complicated Grief Questionnaire items was endorsed as being present ‘often’ or ‘very often’ (⩾3 on a 0–4 Likert scale using the following anchors: ‘never’, ‘rarely’, ‘sometimes’, ‘often’, or ‘very often’) in the last month. To rate impairment, we asked ‘Over the past month, how often have you had grief reactions at a level that interfere with your life?’ We considered the requirement for disorder-related functional impairment met for each criteria set if symptoms interfered at least weekly in the participant's life.

Table 1. CGQ item matching to the ICD-11 PGD guideline

Statistical analysis

Demographic characteristics, participant relationship to the deceased service member, cause of death, ICG and WSAS mean scores, and percentages above cutoffs were reported for the study sample. The percentage of accurately identified participants who met threshold for caseness, and the percentage of accurately excluded subthreshold participants (including 95% confidence intervals) were determined for PCBD, PGDPLOS, and CG criteria, and the ICD-11PGD guideline.

To illustrate whether criteria sets identified similar or different cases within the sample, we calculated κ statistics to examine agreement (with ‘poor’ agreement <0.20; ‘fair’ agreement 0.20–0.40; ‘moderate’ agreement 0.40–0.60; ‘good’ agreement 0.60–0.80; and ‘very good’ agreement 0.80–1.00) in identifying cases between pairs of criteria sets in the entire sample (without regard to ICG or WSAS score). In addition, we constructed a Venn diagram to show the comparable pattern of criteria case identification using the four proposed criteria sets applied to the entire sample.

In order to examine the contribution of criteria restrictiveness (as determined by the number of associated symptoms) to their performance, summary receiver operating characteristic (ROC) plots were created for all criteria sets. These plots demonstrated changes in accurate clinical case inclusion and accurate subthreshold exclusion as the number of associated symptoms varied from 0 to as many as 6.

All statistical analyses were performed using SAS 9.4 (SAS Institute Inc., Cary, North Carolina, USA).

Results

Demographic and loss characteristics

Demographic characteristics, relationship type, cause of death, and the distribution of the ICG and WSAS scores of the study sample are presented in Table 2 (n = 1732). Thirty-seven percent met ICG threshold ⩾30 and when the additional requirement of WSAS ⩾20 was imposed, 260 participants met clinical caseness (16%), with the remaining 1402 identified as subthreshold.

Table 2. Demographic characteristics of the study sample

Percentages do not reflect missing data

a Sample with time since death more than 1 year

Criteria performance: accurate case inclusion and subthreshold exclusion

Percentages of accurate identification of clinical cases and exclusion of those below this threshold are provided in Table 3. The most restrictive DSM PCBD criteria identified only 47% of clinical cases, with PGDPLOS only slightly higher (53%). Both DSM PCBD and PGDPLOS accurately excluded 96% of cases below the threshold. CG and ICD-11PGD had higher rates of accurate case identification (81% and 82%, respectively), and excluded 89% and 86% of subthreshold participants, respectively. These results did not appreciably vary when we modified the threshold for caseness (e.g. ICG ⩾20, 25, or 30 and WSAS ⩾15 or 20; see online Supplementary Table S2 for more details).

Table 3. Accurate inclusion of cases and exclusion of subthreshold participants by proposed criteria

Percentages do not reflect missing data and are based on case threshold of ICG ⩾ 30 and WSAS ⩾20

Agreement among criteria sets

We constructed a Venn diagram (Fig. 1) to compare the pattern of case identification among the different criteria sets. Seventy-four percent of the entire sample (n = 1252) was excluded by all criteria. Ten percent of the sample (n = 176) was identified by all four criteria sets, which comprised virtually all cases identified by PGDPLOS and PCBD criteria. All cases identified by PCBD and PGDPLOS were also identified by both CG criteria and the ICD-11PGD guideline. An additional 9% of the sample (n = 158) excluded by PGDPLOS and PCBD were included by both CG and ICD-11, and 3% of the sample (n = 55) was identified only by the ICD-11PGD guideline. Not surprisingly, κs calculated to determine agreement between PCBD and PGDPLOS showed ‘very good’ agreement (κ = 0.87), as did CG and ICD-11PGD criteria (κ = 0.89). Additionally, all paired examinations demonstrated at least ‘moderate’ agreement with κs ranging from 0.53 to 0.89. In particular, PGDPLOS and CG evidenced ‘good’ agreement (κ = 0.64) indicating that these criteria are describing a very similar clinical syndrome (see online Supplementary Table S3 for details).

Fig. 1. Participants identified by proposed criteria sets within community sample (n = 1732)*.

Examination of the contribution of criteria restrictiveness to performance and agreement among criteria sets

Summary ROC plots (Fig. 2) demonstrated that varying the numbers of associated symptoms reduced the differences observed in criteria performance. When the number of required associated symptoms was held constant (i.e. at a fixed value from 0 and 6 associated symptoms), accurate inclusion of cases and exclusion of non-cases were nearly identical across criteria sets. Performance of all criteria was optimized when either one or two associated symptoms were required, and the level of agreement between all criteria similarly improved to ‘very good’ in all pairwise comparisons (κs 0.86–0.96; see online Supplementary Table S4 for details).

Fig. 2. Receiver operating characteristics plots varying the number of required associated symptoms*.

Discussion

Similar to our previous findings (Cozza et al., Reference Cozza, Fisher, Mauro, Zhou, Ortiz, Skritskaya, Wall, Fullerton, Ursano and Shear2016), the less restrictive CG criteria set was more likely to accurately identify cases (81%) than either the PGDPLOS or PCBD criteria sets (53% and 47%, respectively). The newly-assessed ICD-11PGD performance was more similar to CG (82%) than PGDPLOS or PCBD criteria sets. All proposed criteria demonstrated excellent ability to exclude subthreshold participants (86–96%). Results confirm and expand upon prior reports (Cozza et al., Reference Cozza, Fisher, Mauro, Zhou, Ortiz, Skritskaya, Wall, Fullerton, Ursano and Shear2016; Maciejewski et al., Reference Maciejewski, Maercker, Boelen and Prigerson2016; Mauro et al., Reference Mauro, Shear, Reynolds, Simon, Zisook, Skritskaya, Wang, Lebowitz, Duan, First and Ghesquiere2017) that compared criteria performance for a disorder of persistent and impairing grief. The multidimensional determination of caseness (using both ICG and WSAS) is a methodological strength of this study.

Better understanding of the similarities, as well as differences, among proposed criteria sets is a novel and important contribution. Similarities were evident in three ways. First, κs indicated moderate-to-very good agreement among all criteria sets despite differences in their performance. Second, participants identified by the most restrictive criteria were also identified by the least restrictive criteria (see Fig. 1). In fact, the Venn diagram in Fig. 1 demonstrates that PCBD identified a subgroup of PGDPLOS, which identified a subgroup of CG, which identified a subgroup of ICD-11PGD. ROC plotting confirmed that this ‘Russian doll’ effect was due to the number of associated symptoms required. Third, when the number was held constant, all criteria sets performed similarly and agreement (κ comparisons) improved. This was true despite some differences in content and wording of defined associated symptoms across criteria sets. If criteria were truly identifying distinct disorders, as suggested by Maciejewski and Prigerson (Reference Maciejewski and Prigerson2017), different participants would be identified by each criteria set, and differences in performance would not have been fully accounted for by the number of required symptoms.

This study has a number of limitations. The sample was comprised of family members bereaved by US military service deaths, the majority of which were sudden and violent. In addition, participants were volunteers and recruited through grief support organizations, online advertisements, and word-of-mouth rather than random sampling. Thus, we cannot address issues such as prevalence rates that depend upon random sampling. Neither older bereaved people nor non-violent deaths were well-represented. However, the results of Mauro et al. (Reference Mauro, Reynolds, Maercker, Skritskaya, Simon, Zisook, Lebowitz, Cozza and Shear2018), which used a sample of help-seeking individuals included older people who were bereaved mostly by natural causes, closely mirrored these findings, as well as our previous analyses (Cozza et al., Reference Cozza, Fisher, Mauro, Zhou, Ortiz, Skritskaya, Wall, Fullerton, Ursano and Shear2016). Although our definition of caseness was rigorous, multi-dimensionally determined, and consistent with the evident literature, no clinical interviews were performed to confirm caseness. Although we described the ability of proposed criteria to differentiate persistent and impairing grief from depression in our prior report (Cozza et al., Reference Cozza, Fisher, Mauro, Zhou, Ortiz, Skritskaya, Wall, Fullerton, Ursano and Shear2016), we did not examine the contribution of comorbid conditions in this current analysis. Because a gold standard has not yet been determined and because ours was not a random population sample, we believe it would be inappropriate to calculate sensitivity, specificity, or positive and negative predictive power of the proposed criteria with these data. These remain important goals for future work.

Our results clearly caution against overly restrictive criteria to define a disorder of persistent and impairing grief. We conclude that PGDPLOS and PCBD criteria over-specify the disorder and, consistent with Hyman's (Reference Hyman2010) warning, lead to misidentification of those suffering from a clinically disabling condition that could benefit from evidence-based treatments (Shear et al. Reference Shear, Frank, Houck and Reynolds2005, Reference Shear, Wang, Skritskaya, Duan, Mauro and Ghesquiere2014, Reference Shear, Reynolds, Simon, Zisook, Wang, Mauro, Duan, Lebowitz and Skritskaya2016). In fact, clinical trial data confirm this conclusion. Research subjects who self-referred for a primary complaint of impairing grief, but were not identified by the restrictive PGDPLOS and PCBD criteria, responded as positively to treatment as those who were diagnosed by these same criteria (Mauro et al., Reference Mauro, Reynolds, Maercker, Skritskaya, Simon, Zisook, Lebowitz, Cozza and Shear2018).

Our findings indicate that emphasis on the presence of core symptoms of yearning/longing and/or preoccupation with the deceased, with inclusion of some associated symptoms in the context of meaningful functional impairment, optimizes each criteria set's clinical relevance and utility. Of those that have been proposed for implementation by diagnostic classification systems, the WHO's ICD-11PGD guideline effectively identifies clinical cases, but the current DSM-5 PCBD criteria do not. Although associated symptoms can provide a broad description of the clinical expression of the disorder and are important for clinicians to recognize, a requirement of more than two of these symptoms diminishes PCBD criteria performance.

Supplementary material

The supplementary material for this article can be found at https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291719000254

Financial support

This project was funded by the Department of Defense, Congressionally Directed Research Programs (CDMRP) (Award number W81XWH-11-2-0119), Grant title: ‘The Impact of a Service Member Death on Military Families: A National Study of Bereavement’.

Conflict of interest

Dr Cozza reports no competing interests. Dr Shear reports a contract with Guilford Press to write a book on grief. Dr Reynolds reports no competing interests. Dr Fisher reports no competing interests. Dr Zhou reports no competing interests. Dr Maercker reports no competing interests. Dr Simon reports no competing interests. Dr Mauro reports no competing interests. Dr Skritskaya reports no competing interests. Dr Zisook reports no competing interests. Dr Lebowitz reports no competing interests. Ms Bloom reports no competing interests. Dr Fullerton reports no competing interests. Dr Ursano reports no competing interests. The opinions and assertions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Uniformed Services University or the Department of Defense.

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Figure 0

Table 1. CGQ item matching to the ICD-11 PGD guideline

Figure 1

Table 2. Demographic characteristics of the study sample

Figure 2

Table 3. Accurate inclusion of cases and exclusion of subthreshold participants by proposed criteria

Figure 3

Fig. 1. Participants identified by proposed criteria sets within community sample (n = 1732)*.

Figure 4

Fig. 2. Receiver operating characteristics plots varying the number of required associated symptoms*.

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