If you have ever lost a love one, you have probably gone through the grieving process. Bereavement is the term used for the grief that most people experience when they suffer a significant loss. Up until recently, the grieving process was considered a “normal” human response to loss. However, it could be considered a psychiatric disorder in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). The American Psychiatric Association is currently reviewing the criteria for depression and considering expanding it to include bereavement. This would allow for a diagnosis of a major depression immediately after the loss of a loved one.
There are two sides to the argument of the inclusion of grief/bereavement in the DSM-V. Those against the inclusion of grief state that it will lead to too many individuals being diagnosed with an inaccurate or unnecessary psychiatric disorder. Being diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder can cause people to become stigmatized. This will, in turn, make people feel that their grieving of a loved one is not a normal process because their behaviour is classified as pathological. Additionally, when an individual is diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder they are usually treated with prescribed medication. A major cause for concern is that individuals may be treated with unnecessary medications that have serious side effects and complications.
Then there are those that feel grief should be included in the DSM-V. They argue that depression is under-diagnosed in society. As a result of this, many people suffering from depression are not getting the treatment that they need. The inclusion of grief in the DSM-V will allow people that need treatment to obtain it much sooner than they would have if it wasn’t included. Additionally, treatments for disorders that are included in the DSM-V will be covered by insurance carriers.
There are compelling reasons on both sides of the argument with each medical professional making their own decision as to what side of the fence to be on. It is vital that people remember that grief is a universal response to loss; however, there is not one “right” way to grieve. Each culture has their own rituals when it comes to loss and every person has their own individual emotions and behaviours during the grieving process. In additional to an individualized response to loss, the length of the grieving process for each person is different. The degree of impairment on a person’s life is also differs from person to person. There is no distinct line separating those that are experiencing normal grief and those that are stuck with complicated depression and grief. This is why doctors have to look at the whole picture before labelling a patient with a psychiatric disorder.
It is important to remember is that even if grief is included as a disorder in the next version of the DSM, the criteria are not set in stone. In a few years, the criteria will once again be looked at and adjusted accordingly.