Grieving Forbidden

GriefWe are edging ever so close to living in a world where grieving is forbidden–if the modern mental health establishment has anything to say about it.  While that may sound wildly paranoid to you, consider the historic changes to the DSM (the diagnostic manual for mental health professionals) reviewed in a recent article in USA Today (May, 2013):

Since the DSM update in 1994, the guideline has been that when symptoms (sadness, distress, insomnia, trouble concentrating, lack of appetite) begin within two months of a loved one’s death but do not persist beyond two months psychiatrists should not diagnose ‘major depressive disorder.’ In earlier decades, psychiatrists waited a year for such a diagnosis.

Translation: Historically, people were allowed to grieve for at least a year before mental health experts considered the person depressed.  But over the last twenty years, people are only allowed to grieve for TWO MONTHS.  That’s right, if you are still sad and distressed, have trouble sleeping, eating, and concentrating after two months of a loved one’s death, you are eligible to be called “clinically depressed.”  What happened to the common sense that grieving is a slow process that takes time?  The age-old idea of at least a year of normal, healthy grief had to do with the understanding that people needed to get through the regular events that would bring sadness (Holidays, birthday, etc.).  Time was seen to be essential for people to gradually adjust to life without a loved one.

As a Biblical counselor, I have been troubled by this change ever since 1994.  But lo and behold, it has now officially gotten more distressing.  Here’s the rest of the story:

The new DSM-5 narrows the window to two weeks.  So a person with five of nine symptoms of depression, regardless of the reason, could be diagnosed as mentally ill.  

No, that’s not a typo.  The new psychiatric guidelines make a person eligible for clinical depression just TWO WEEKS after a major loss.  In other words, you better start learning to grieve much more quickly!  If your sadness extends for more than fourteen days, it is no longer normal in the eyes of the mental health establishment.  So what’s behind this change of thinking by the “experts”?  One more section from the USA Today article will clarify:

Removing the [normal grief] exclusion allows psychiatrists to cast a wider net by more quickly diagnosing mental illness and offering treatment.

Kind translation: Because the mental health experts are so concerned about people becoming clinically depressed, it’s better to catch the signs early than to allow it go untreated.  More realistic translation: If we expand the diagnosis, more people will see themselves as mentally diseased, requiring our therapy and medication, and thereby expanding our client base.  Either way you choose to look at it, the line between “normal grief” and “abnormal depression” has now been thoroughly blurred with this change, effectively communicating that grief must only be short and sweet.  So, yes, it does seem to me that if the psychiatric world had its way, grief would be basically forbidden, since it has so many symptoms that are similar to depression.

Now to be fair, our mental health experts are simply reflecting cultural changes just as much as they are seeking to change them.  Moderns seem to fear sadness in themselves and especially in others more than in past generations.  Happiness is society’s highest goal; but more than that, people must be consistently happy all of the time!  Being “depressed” for any period of time for any reason is just unacceptable.  Most people want quick and even instant solutions to sadness in order to get back to being happy and productive.  Sadness is just a big time waster, and is treated like the common cold–if I get it, how do I quickly get rid of it?  So the mental health community is playing to its consumers who are more and more comfortable with being diagnosed so they can receive treatment.

You may be thinking: Who cares what the psychiatric community says!  Christians should know that normal grief is not only healthy, but is God’s design for us when we experience loss.  We are supposed to grieve the loss of those we love AND we must even grieve our sinfulness as well!  To deny the grieving process is to deny the Biblical healing of the heart, soul, and mind.  In reality, to not grieve is a bigger problem, and creates even more difficulties later in life.  Yes, I agree–who cares what the psychiatric establishment puts in their DSM!  But unfortunately, Christians are very much influenced by what the mental health experts teach.  Many can seek their wisdom rather than the counsel guided by the Word and the Spirit.  And, there are way too many Christian counselors and other helpers that put stock into this so-called expertise as well.

Much more can (and will) be said on the subject.  But let’s end with this truth: This is again why it is so essential to teach ALL of God’s Word to the next generation, and train them to ground their thinking in true wisdom rather than this worldly wisdom!  Let us not forbid our children and youth to grieve, but teach them to grieve with the hope that is found in the gospel!

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Brian says:

    as a beginning masters student in counseling, who is very sensitive to grief issues, this is sad. just bought my DSM-5. curious to speak with my profs about this change

  2. Steve says:

    It’s no coincidence that 3 of the top 10 most profitable pharmaceuticals in the U.S. in 2012 were antidepressants…to the tune of $13.5 billion! These guys saw an opportunity to increase thier marketshare with the new DSM and they took it. As a Christian physician, this truly saddens me.

  3. Brian says:

    And don’t forget that once you are labeled “Clinically Depressed”, you LOSE your 2nd-Amendment Rights AND your guns for 5 years…

  4. ruth says:

    The assertion that the mental heath community wants to decrease (or even forbid) appropriate grief in order to increase market share appears to be an overly sensationalist claim. The new DSM V suggests that the change was made in order to “remove the implication that bereavement typically lasts only 2 months, when both physicians and grief counsellors recognise that the duration is more commonly 1-2 years” but to also alert clinicians to the group of people who become clinically depressed following a major loss to the point where they are depressed most of the day, have little pleasure in previously enjoyed activities, lose or gain a significant amount of weight, develop sleep issues, feel fatigued nearly every day, worthless, lack concentration and have recurrent suicidal thoughts (needing at least 5 of these symptoms). These experiences need to be “in addition to the normal response to a significant loss”.
    I am not advocating for an uncritical acceptance of the DSM by Christians but it is also important to a give a fair critique of those you don’t agree with.

    1. John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. says:

      Thanks for your comment. As Christians, we definitely have to be fair with those who hold a different worldview. As I said in my post, this move could be interpreted as just a concern to care for more hurting people if you are inclined to take a more positive view of the mental health community–as you have. I tend to be more suspicious of their motives (not to mention their diagnostic criteria), coupled with my bigger point that our culture in general is afraid of grief and sadness of any kind.

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