Effects of Prior Trauma on Grief after U.S. Military Service Member Death

Exposure to trauma, especially sexual abuse, results in increased risk for psychological disorders. Individuals who suffer from mental disorders are more likely to experience complicated grief after the death of someone close. Limited information exists about whether trauma history affects grief reactions (Silverman, Johnson & Prigerson, 2001) or whether these reactions are mediated by maladaptive coping strategies common after sexual trauma (e.g., substance use, self-blame, behavioral disengagement).  The present study examines the influence of coping strategies on five factors of grief defined by Simon et al. (2011): preoccupation with the deceased, anger and bitterness, shock and disbelief, estrangement from others, hallucinations of the deceased in individuals with a history of trauma. Participants are bereaved military family members who were divided into three groups: individuals who experienced a traumatic event as either a child (n=244) or an adult (n=335), and those who did not experience a traumatic event (n=657). Differential effects of coping on depression and anxiety are also explored. Preliminary results indicate that grief, depression and anxiety are higher in individuals who have experienced trauma (whether as an adult or child). Coping strategies, such as self-blame, denial and substance use, are significant predictors of grief, depression and anxiety.