Is Grief a Mental Disorder? It’s not fun to think about or discuss but it’s the truth: grief touches all of us. In fact it’s quite natural. People close to us eventually pass away, and the bereaved are cast into emotional distress. It can feel as if there’s no way out.
Grief presents a formidable challenge but many adopt coping methods to help them move on. Some, however, are stricken to the point of emotional dysfunction for months and even years. They find themselves unable to carry on with life. In these cases psychiatric or psychological treatment may prove necessary.
Before the newest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), grief was passed over as a psychological issue. However DSM-5 contains updates which help understand the intersection of grief and mental health. For one, a new disorder was added: Complicated Grief Disorder. It applies when daily grief disrupts life for half a year or longer. Symptoms may be nihilistic feelings, intrusive and distressing thoughts about the deceased, excessive dwelling, anger, etc. Sufferers are left partially or entirely unable to function.
Even with a common dose of grief these symptoms upend human happiness. Sometimes one may feel guilty about enjoying life altogether, for example after laughing at a friend’s joke. This constant immersive grief can lead to additional mental health problems such as depression.
Everyone grieves at their own pace so it’s hard to diagnose whether someone is simply grieving or developing depression. Therefore the DSM-5 gives two months before depression becomes an acceptable diagnosis. It is pertinent to note that grief patients do not uniformly present with dual diagnoses, leading to acknowledgment of complicated grief as its own disorder. The differences extend to treatment: traditional antidepressants can handle some symptoms while others, like intense longing, continue.That said, treatment for possible depression is acceptable two weeks after grieving begins.
Long term, intense grief can also have physical effects. According to Scientific American, grief can “increase the risk of other illnesses, such as heart problems, high blood pressure and cancer.”
People with complicated grief disorder are often administered psychotherapy by a professional psychologist. If depression is suspected antidepressant medication may be included in the treatment plan.
One vital thing to remember is that grief, in and of itself, is a normal part of loss. There have been debates about whether and when to diagnose a grieving person with mental illness – and for good reason. It’s a touchy subject already. We all experience grief in our own way, and in our own time. To label a mourner as mentally ill would be unfair. However there are clearly times when grief turns into something more serious. At those times, it’s a good idea to reach out for professional help.
If you or a loved one has feelings of grief so severe that thoughts of suicide arise, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-TALK.
Hughes, Virginia. (2011, June). Shades of Grief: When Does Mourning Become a Mental Illness? Scientific American. Retrieved on July 1, 2019 from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/shades-of-grief/
Mayo Clinic. Complicated grief. Retrieved on July 1, 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/complicated-grief/symptoms-causes/syc-20360374
WebMD. (2018) What is Normal Grieving, and What Are the Stages of Grief? Retrieved on July 2, 2019 from https://www.webmd.com/balance/normal-grieving-and-stages-of-grief#2
Is Grief a Mental Disorder?
Note: For assistance with behavioral health issues, contact us at 305-740-3340 or schedule an appointment with BregmanMD.