Recent Study Examines Grief in Families of Victims of Terrorist Attacks

October 14, 2020

Terrorism is a crime from which the families of the victims may never recover. A recent study examines the grieving process in depth.

In a recent study, Pål Kristensen, PhD at the Centre for Crisis Psychology at the University of Bergen in Norway and colleagues examined the parents and siblings of the victims of the 2011 terrorism attacks in Norway as they went through the grieving process.1 They found nearly 80% of the study participants had a high level of grief and experienced a slow recovery, if any recovery at all.

“The terror attack in 2011 was a huge national tragedy that affected all of us deeply. Still,

we needed to learn about the long-term mental health effects and how we could help those who were affected the most—the bereaved,” Kristensen said to the press.2

In the aforementioned attack, a far-right Norwegian-born terrorist used a car bomb explosion to kill 8 people in Oslo, then shot and killed 69 people on Utøya Island. Researchers reached out to the family members of these victims; of the 208 contacted, nearly 60% responded.

According to the study, families of terrorist victims are at high risk of developing Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD). PGD is an ailment marked by an intense longing for the deceased, so consistent and severe that it negatively affects daily life.

Kristensen and colleagues examined participants at 18 months, 28 months, and 40 months after the attacks to gauge their grief levels. From these observations, they determined there were 3 potential trajectories: moderate grief that stabilized after 28 months; intense grief that slowly decreased after 28 to 40 months; extreme grief that persisted, becoming chronic. Of the participants, 13% felt no recovery, and 64% felt a slow recovery.

Other studies that examined grief typically found a track of resilience, where the participants could eventually recover post-tragedy. Kristensen et al. found no such trajectory among his participants. 

Kristensen stated he would like to see more longitudinal, qualitative studies to discover how to best support the needs of the grieving.

“We need to reach out to the terror-bereaved to offer help both early after an attack, but particularly across time when the social support is reduced,” Kristensen said.2

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References

1. Kristensen P, Dyregrov K, Gjestad R. Different Trajectories of Prolonged Grief in Bereaved family members after Terror. Frontiers in Psychiatry. September 14, 2020. Accessed October 7, 2020. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.545368/full

2. Recovery from grief is a slow, difficult process for families of victims of terrorist attacks. Frontiers Press Office. News release. October 14, 2020.