Is Grief a Medical Disorder or a Part of Life?

California sunriseEvery once in a while I write a post that really strikes a chord with people, and such a post was The Half-Life of Grief. It’s garnered over 126 shares on Facebook alone, so apparently it’s an important message: grief is not simply emotional, but it’s physical, too. And if it’s physical, then no amount of sublimating our emotions will get rid of the grief. It’s in our very cells.

This is a message that the American Psychiatric Association doesn’t get. According to the updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to be released by the American Psychiatric Association, grief is considered a medical disorder, and should be treated as major depression. There used to be a bereavement exclusion in the description of major depression, but they have taken that away, and now more than a few days of pain after the loss of a loved one is considered a crisis. There can be “a few days of acute upset and then a much longer period of the longing, the tearfulness. But typically sleep, appetite, energy, concentration come back to normal more quickly than that.”

As I said in 2010 when I first posted the information about the APA getting rid of the bereavement exclusion: In whose world is grieving a medical condition that needs to be treated? Not my world. In my world, grief is one of the bookends of a relationship. Love. Grief. If grief is a medical condition, then watch out. One day love is going to be considered a treatable disease.

During the past couple of years, there has been a concerted effort by grief counselors, therapists, and other health professionals to rectify this gross misrepresentation of grief, but the American Psychiatric Association is sticking to their decision that grief is a medical disorder.

A medical disorder? For cripes sake, it doesn’t take a fistful of degrees to understand that for the majority of people who have lost someone important in their lives, grief is a completely sane and healthy reaction. So what if grief is hard? Someone we loved dearly is gone from our lives and will never return. What do they expect us to do, just blithely continue with our lives as if nothing important happened? As if the dead had never even existed? As if we’re happy about the situation? And even if we wanted to be joyful despite it all, there is the simple matter that our bodies also grieve, and we’d have physical reactions even if we were drugged into placidity.

I realize that in certain cases people do entertain thoughts of suicide, but those thoughts are part of the grief process. It’s only when people start stockpiling pills or buying guns or starving themselves on purpose that grief might become a medical concern.

Admittedly, some people do manage to continue after a major loss as if nothing happened, and to be honest, I thought I would be one of those people, but death and loss have a way of making themselves felt even in the strong and stoic.

It might seem from these grief posts that I dwell on grief, but I don’t. I dwell on life. And grief is part of life. I understand that. And so should the American Psychiatric Association.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

6 Responses to “Is Grief a Medical Disorder or a Part of Life?”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    I’ve only had one meeting of my Abnormal Psychology class so far, and I know that grief’s not a disorder! Jeez, now I’m not sure I should rely on the DSM-V anymore.

  2. Jessie B Tyson Says:

    Grief is a normal natural process and is different for everyone. In my opinion if a person can get over a loss quickly then they were not so close to that deceased person in the first place. For a life mate to die is a traumatic experience that pills cannot help. Yes, they can mask the pain, but in the end the grief is still there unless people are allowed to work through it without medication. Hmm..meds eh..yeah, there will even be pills for people who are too energetic soon, or perhaps people who they deem to drink too much damn tea…lol. Silly I know. Its all money into the drug companies pockets. At one time they said herbs did not work, but now one cannot sell a herb to “cure” as the drug companies sue. Its all as money making @%$&#

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