In limbo: A systematic review of psychological responses and coping among people with a missing loved one
Objective: This review explored psychological responses and coping among loved ones left behind when a person is missing.
Method: A systematic search identified 42 studies that reported data gathered among people with a missing loved one regarding psychological symptoms and/or coping strategies. Studies were arranged according to context of disappearance: forced (a result of war/conflict, abduction, forced separation) or unclear (reason unknown)/unspecified circumstances.
Results: The most consistent findings for psychological symptoms were reports of depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and prolonged grief reactions. When the disappearance was unclear/unspecified, people more often reported use of cognitive avoidance and continuing a bond as coping strategies. When the disappearance was forced, people more often reported use of informal support seeking.
Conclusions: Further research is warranted to clarify (a) the generalizability of findings to those left behind under circumstances where the ambiguity may be greater and (b) the acceptability of various targeted psychological interventions.