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Is Grief an Illness? The Debate Heats Up
Date:2/17/2012

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Feb. 16 (HealthDay News) -- The loss of a loved one can trigger deep emotional turmoil, but is the grief that follows a normal part of being human or is it a form of mental illness in need of diagnosis and treatment?

That's the gist of a major debate now unfolding in the world of psychiatry, as the American Psychiatric Association (APA) prepares to issue the fifth edition of its seminal reference guide to mental disease, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

The issue: For the first time, the manual -- a touchstone for mental health professionals across the United States -- may not exclude the concept of "bereavement" from the constellation of behaviors and experiences that it deems worthy of consideration when clinicians set out to diagnose a major depressive disorder.

What does this mean? That feelings or outbursts accompanying the passing of a family member or close friend -- such as crying, insomnia, fatigue, confusion and profound sadness -- may now be viewed as a treatable illness rather than as a normal reaction to life's most shattering moments.

Needless to say, not everyone agrees with this shift in thinking.

"To me, grief is a normal condition, not to be tagged with a diagnostic code and to be treated," stressed Dr. T. Byram Karasu, chairman of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and psychiatrist-in-chief at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "Everyone loses someone in their lives at some point. So, this would be classifying everyone at some point. No one would be immune to this."

"And that does not make sense, because grief is a normal and very healthy behavior," said Karasu, who also chairs the APA's National Task Force on the treatment of depression. "One has to feel joy as well as pain and depression, otherwise life is not worth living. And one shou
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