The Daily News, April 21, 2011
by Wendy Pratt
Those of us working at Nanaimo Hospice were shocked at this headline. The proposed revisions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders designating grief as a mental illness leaves us wondering if we, as humans, have lost our way. And although I am not a cynical person, one has to wonder who is behind this kind of move to “medicalize” grief — who would benefit most?
Let me be clear — grief is not a mental disorder. It is a natural reaction to a life transition that we must all face many times over a lifetime.
At hospice we know that accessing the right support and having someone to reassure you that you are not “going crazy” and that the emotions and physical symptoms you are experiencing are normal makes a huge difference.
What troubled me most was a quote by Dr. Allen Frances who is, in fact, against changes to the DSM, but who says, “the DSM already allows the diagnosis of major depression soon after a loss if the grief symptoms are severe — when the bereaved becomes incapacitated, suicidal, or psychotic.”
No one is going to disagree with psychoses — but incapacitation and suicidal ideation are not uncommon in the people hospice supports through their grief.
Some losses just seem too hard to move through, but we know that when people access our services, healing is possible.
I am reminded of a gentleman who was ready to end his life just days after his wife died. He came to hospice as the home care nurse’s urging. He was sure we could not help. After nine months of support he sent a card signed “from a reluctant client, you saved my life — thank you.”
A year and a half later he was planning his wedding to someone who had also suffered a loss. Together they honoured and celebrated the memories of their lost spouses at the same time as they were building a new life filled with hope and happiness.
As author Dr. Alan Wofelt once said, “grief is the price we pay for loving deeply.” We concur.