Researcher Spotlight: Dr. Sidney Zisook


Sidney Zisook, M.D., is a Research Scientist at the San Diego VA Healthcare System, a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at UCSD and Director of the University of California, San Diego Residency Training Program. Dr. Zisook received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California at Berkeley and his medical degree from Stritch-Loyola, Chicago. He completed his residency in Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and was a clinical fellow of Harvard Medical School. Dr Zisook's clinical research background is heavily focused on bereavement, suicide prevention and depression intervention clinical trials. Currently, Dr Zisook is a national Co-Chair of a multi-site VA Cooperative Study on treatment resistant depression, San Diego PI on a multi-site NIMH grant assessing medication and psychotherapeutic interventions to individuals with complicated grief and PI of an American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP) grant to study grief therapy for individuals who have lost a close friend, relative or comrade to suicide.

Research Projects

The NIMH study, "Optimizing Treatment of Complicated Grief", is a 4-site randomized, controlled, interventional trial assessing the effectiveness of antidepressant medications alone, psychotherapy alone, both or neither for bereaved individuals meeting criteria for Complicated Grief. Complicated Grief is a syndrome of intense and unrelenting grief after the death of a loved one that may affect as many as 1 out of 10 individuals who have lost someone close. Signs include a preoccupation with the person who has died, longing and yearning that does not substantially abate with time, and difficulty reestablishing a meaningful life without that person. The pain of the loss stays fresh and healing does not occur. The individual feels stuck; time moves on but the intense grief remains. There have been a few previous studies supporting the effectiveness of targeted psychotherapeutic interventions, but no published controlled studies on the role of medications, despite the high comorbidity of Complicated Grief with Major Depressive and Posttraumatic Stress Disorders. In this study, 480 participants (133 in San Diego) with Complicated Grief are to be randomized to receive medications alone, psychotherapy alone, both or neither for 20 weeks and then followed for an additional 6 months. Effectiveness will be assessed on measures of responder status and on improvement in Complicated Grief symptoms, depression, anxiety, functional impairment, sleep and suicidality.