Ambiguous loss


The systematic disappearance of persons is a frequent phenomenon in countries torn by war and conflict. Due to the uncertainty regarding the fate of the disappeared person, relatives often remain in a difficult state between hope and despair. These ambiguous losses may have long-term negative mental health consequences for those left behind, which can manifest themselves in both somatic stress symptoms as well as prolonged grief and depression.

Although it is widely assumed that the disappearance of a loved one is associated with severe consequences both emotionally and legally, little is yet known about the psychological consequences for those left behind. In addition to knowledge about the psychological consequences, there is lack of knowledge about factors detrimental or beneficial for the mental health in particular.


The aim of the study is to investigate the mental health of relatives of disappeared persons. Primary goal is the identification of psychological distress among relatives of disappeared persons. In a second step, we investigate how psychological distress in this group changes over time and determine factors detrimental or beneficial for the course. Another research question is the identification of personal resources, which can help relatives to process their loss. The overall objective is to gain insight into factors, which specifically promote or prevent the development of psychological distress among relatives of disappeared persons.


Freie Universität Berlin
Tierra y Vida


Dipl.-Psych. Carina Heeke
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