Robbins, Mark

Advisor Department





Grief, Depression, Anxiety, Psychology, Thanatology, Death


Trauma and stress have been commonly studied with the occurrence of anxiety disorders. However, less research has been conducted on the relationship between the experience of loss, the centrality of the loss to a person’s identity and the experience and severity of symptoms of depression and anxiety. Current research has examined the relationship between a significant stressful event and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of anxiety and depression are experienced by people during various points in their life, although higher levels of these disorders may be exhibited after having experienced a loss or stressful life event.

Grief can be understood as the feeling of discontentment or sadness after a loss, such as a death. Higher levels of depression and anxiety, though commonly associated with PTSD, have been widely studied in occurrences of stressful life events but are less understood in relation to loss and grieving. The current study examines the relationship of loss and grieving with more common experiences of depression and anxiety symptoms. This project has its basis in the integration of psychological disorders and thanatological concepts. With the emergence of thanatology – the study of death, dying, and bereavement – the topic of how loss is associated with anxiety disorders is understudied.

This relates to the current study because a negative life event, particularly a loss, can contribute to anxiety disorders. Binelli et al. (2012) examined whether the experience of negative life events is associated with the development of social anxiety in order to understand the factors that contribute to anxiety in adulthood. Participants who experienced a negative life event, especially family violence were found to have higher levels of social anxiety. This current study will use a similar methodology to evaluate the relationship between a loss and the centrality (or meaning of that loss) to the individual and the current experience of depression and anxiety symptoms. It is hypothesized that a less controlled grieving style will be associated with higher current levels of anxiety and depression. It is also expected that the more central the event is to the participant’s identity, the less likely it is that the individual will have a controlled attitude to current grief.

An IRB proposal including a summary of the project, informed consent form, and survey with instructions has been developed and is under review. An online survey has been created and will be administered to nearly 600 undergraduate students at the University of Rhode Island via internet-based survey experiment software. Students will be offered course credit for their participation. The survey will include the Adult Attitude to Grief Scale (AAG) to assess the level at which the participant’s response to a loss and grief, the Centrality of Events Scale (CES) to measure how central a stressful life event is to the participant’s identity, the Center for Epidemiologic Studies of Depression Scale (CES-D) to measure symptoms of depression, and the Generalized Anxiety 7-Item Scale (GAD-7) to measure symptoms of anxiety. Results will be analyzed for relations between the experience of loss, current grief, and anxiety/depression symptoms.

This study will help to elucidate characteristics of loss and grief and their relation to common symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is often the case that these types of losses and related grief may not lead to diagnosable disorders such as PTSD but nonetheless can lead to real suffering. Results of this research may have implications for treatment for individuals who have endured common loss and grief by helping better tailor therapy, particularly for losses that are central to a person’s identity.