The next few months we’ll be highlighting authors who have published in Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry.
Dr. Clare Killikelly is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia, and Department of Psychology, University of Zurich. Dr. Kilikelly’s research group examines the clinical utility and global applicability of the new Prolonged Grief Disorder. Her research seeks to better understand the nature of suffering and distress in different communities to develop accessible and culturally informed assessments and interventions.
What is your article “The New ICD-11 Prolonged Grief Disorder Guidelines in Japan: Findings and Implications from Key Informant Interviews” about?
Symptoms of mental disorder, including grief reactions, are found to differ across cultures. There are several examples where misdiagnosis of mental disorders, treatment gaps, and reduced help seeking occurs when culturally sensitive assessments are lacking. The identification of culturally unique symptoms of grief can improve the validity of mental health assessment.
We are the first to explore PGD symptoms in Japan from the perspective of frontline health care workers. We conducted in depth key informant interviews with cultural brokers (e.g. individuals who are part of the health care system but also have lived experience of the cultural group).
We had two main aims: first to explore experiences of grief to define both normal and abnormal reactions. Secondly, we assessed the acceptability of the ICD-11 guidelines to identify areas where cultural information is lacking. This would provide a unique viewpoint that is often overlooked in larger qualitative studies.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your research interests.
I am interested in the role of culture in the presentation and treatment of mental health disorders. I believe that there may be cultural concepts that when unlocked can provide a key to better therapeutic outcomes.
After completing a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, UK, I became interested in the core cognitive processes underlying psychopathology and the development of targeted psychotherapeutic interventions. I completed a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, UK and explored the use of innovative mobile technologies to improve the acceptability and efficacy of therapeutic interventions for people with psychosis. Working as a psychologist with refugees in South London I became interested in the different cultural experiences and presentations of distress.
Currently, I have been awarded a Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) Post-Doc Mobility grant to work at the University of British Columbia to examine the relationship between grief, indicators of mental health and post migration living difficulties in refugees in Canada in comparison with Swiss, Dutch and German cultural contexts.
If you are interested in learning more about this research project, or possibly participating please check out the website.
What drew you to this project?
Prolonged grief disorder is the only mental disorder where people are expected to suffer. However, the intensity and duration of this suffering is bound by different cultural norms. For example, in German speaking countries it is common to observe a Trauerjahr (year of mourning) whereas in Syria there are 40 days of mourning. The new ICD-11 definition of PGD states that individuals must experience intense and prolonged symptoms of grief for over 6 months. Although there is robust research evidence that supports this time criteria in the Global North (e.g. North America and Europe), the current definition of PGD may be missing key symptom items and features that are more representative in different cultures.
Ultimately, we would like to develop a catalogue of culture concepts of distress (CCD) that could be accessed worldwide to help clinicians more accurately assess and diagnose PGD in different cultural groups.
What was one of the most interesting findings?
Part of the analysis focused on establishing common grief symptoms for disordered grief in Japanese bereaved. Participants described a range of emotional responses that are associated with both normal and abnormal grief responses. One unique emotional response was identified related to sadness: The sense of loss was described using a metaphor for distress ‘as a hole opening up inside the kokoro (heart).’
The in-depth qualitative analysis provided insight for clinical application, for example, due to
prominent values of emotional control, stigma towards mental illness, or lack of somatic items in the assessment measure, PGD may be underestimated in Japanese culture with the current ICD-11 PGD guidelines.
What are you reading, listening to, and/or watching right now?
I am currently re-reading ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ by David Guterson which takes place on the islands neighbouring Vancouver and UBC. It is an excellent book but a harrowing story about the Japanese internment camps during World War II. This is also an often overlooked part of Canadian history.
If there was one takeaway or action point you hope people will get from your work, what would it be?
We were able to identify new symptoms that are very relevant for the Japanese context that are currently missing from the ICD-11 PGD definition. For example, somatic symptoms are robustly endorsed in the Japanese context, however, these are largely missing from the PGD ICD-11 definition. On the other hand, yearning and longing for the deceased (a core symptom of PGD ICD-11) is considered a normal and encouraged process, related to the emphasis on continuous bonds. Clinicians will need to consider these possible cultural differences before diagnosing PGD in the Japanese context. Considering the deeper beliefs and values of a culture and how this may impact on the assessment of grief is of great importance.
Thank you for your time!
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