Grief not a mental illness: Study

Grief is not an illness, according to The Lancet journal. In an editorial, the medical journal’s editors have said that grief following the death of a loved one isn’t a “mental illness” that requires psychiatrists and antidepressants.

“Grief is not an illness; it is more usefully thought of as part of being human and a normal response to death of a loved one,” write the editors who are worried by moves which appear to categorise extreme emotions as diseses.

Doctors tempted to prescribe pills “would do better to offer time, compassion, remembrance and empathy” to those who are grieving, suggest the editors.

In fact, the editorial opposes the American Psychiatric Association’s controversial proposal to re-categorise grief reactions as a mental illness in the upcoming edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The editorial says: “Medicalising grief, so that treatment is legitimised routinely with antidepressants, for example, is not only dangerously simplistic, but also flawed. The evidence base for treating recently bereaved people with standard antidepressant regimens is absent.” It notes the manual draft contains “no exclusion for bereavement” before diagnosing a “major depressive disorder”.

This “means that feelings of deep sadness, loss, sleeplessness, crying, inability to concentrate, tiredness, and no appetite, which continue for more than two weeks after the death of a loved one, could be diagnosed as depression, rather than as a normal grief reaction”, the editors write.

Dr Astrid James, deputy editor of ‘The Lancet’, said it seemed “far too early” to classify someone as mentally ill two weeks after the death of a loved one.

She was quoted by ‘The Daily Telegraph’ online as saying, “We need to be careful not to overmedicalise experiences that are part of normal living, and to make sure we allow people to grieve rather than try and suppress it or treat it.”

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