Because life has been so upside-down busy with a newborn baby and buying an apartment, I missed a very interesting article about whether grieving is a psychiatric disorder.

The issue is coming to light because the American Psychiatric Association is considering including it in the first updated D.S.M. (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in nearly 20 years. Not coincidentally, there has been an explosive growth of medications to treat the onset of depression.

Please read the article and any related material if you get a chance. There’s good reason for those of us outside the psychiatric community to question the wisdom and implications of such a proposed change.

Every one of us suffers a severe loss in life — the death of a loved one, a divorce or break-up, sudden career ending, etc. Under the new D.S.M. codes, almost all of these life events would be considered viable reasons for a diagnosis of mental disorder.

Aren’t most human beings resilient to suffering loss? And if they’re having a hard time, can’t they get help without being diagnosed with depression?

Good questions, and I don’t have the answer. I can only relate personal experience. In June, it will be 10 years since my mother died of lung cancer. She was my father’s caretaker, so it fell to my sisters, my brother-in-law and I to get him the proper care. During the summer and fall following my mother’s death, I was busy with family matters like getting my father into assisted living. I also made a strong effort to volunteer more and kickstart my social life. I landed a busy contract job that looked like it might become permanent, and pretty soon it was easy to feel like things were getting back to “normal.”

That winter, the contract job ended a month early. With nothing else lined up, I retreated and slipped into despair. Was I depressed? Yes. I saw a psychiatrist, got a diagnosis, medication and started seeing a therapist.

Was it all because of my mother’s death? No. Looking back, I think it had as much to do with an unoccupied mind that’s chemically inclined to focus on the negative as residual sadness over the most devastating loss I’d ever suffered.

One of the doctors quoted in the article who is against the new designation, Allen Frances — who chaired the last D.S.M. revisions in 1993 — said, “what I worry about most is that the revisions will medicalize normality and that millions of people will get psychiatric labels unnecessarily.”

I’m just a layman, but I tend to agree. That’s why the proposed D.S.M. revisions are troubling. It’s fair to question whether grief itself needs a pill. While it makes sense to be more specific when treating emotional disorders, labeling grief as a psychiatric disorder with a diagnostic code might overreach and risk causing people to believe they need medication. When addressing grief, I certainly hope the APA doesn’t undervalue the natural healing factors of time, perspective, a sense of community, and talk therapy too.

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