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

ld not interrupt the grieving by medication or psychotherapy. You have to feel the loss, and only by feeling the loss and recovering from it will the person become a better person. Interrupted grief will remain unfinished business."

Karasu's stance is in line with those expressed by the editorial board of the British medical journal The Lancet, which lays out its opposition to the new clinical approach in its Feb. 18 issue.

"Grief is not an illness," the journal's editors argue, noting that a diagnostic change in the APA's forthcoming manual would empower clinicians to interpret any post-loss despair that endures beyond a two-week window as a troubling sign of sickness rather than a standard sign of coping.

The Lancet team suggests that, instead, an intense but normal bout of grief can last six months to a year, depending on the very individualized nature of the particular relationship that has been severed by death.

"Medicalising grief, so that treatment is legitimized routinely with antidepressants, for example, is not only dangerously simplistic, but also flawed," the authors noted.

They acknowledged, however, that sometimes grief can morph into something much more complicated, longer lasting and "pathological." In such instances, true clinical depression may ensue along the lines of a so-called "prolonged grief disorder," a potentially new designation now under consideration by the World Health Organization. And such patients, the board agreed, might stand to benefit from some form of mental health intervention.

The concern over exactly when normal grief becomes a condition that perhaps requires treatment is what's driving the notion of inclusion in the DSM, said University of California, San Diego, psychiatry professor Dr. Sidney Zisook.

"It is well recognized that the death of a loved one, just like any other serious stressor, [such as the] loss of a job, diagnosis of a fatal illness, divor
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