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I have an essay about the gift of grief on Christianity Today’s website. It begins:
After my mother-in-law died, I remember thinking that I finally understood the word depressed.
It felt as though I had been pushed underneath a heavy boulder, one
that wasn’t crushing me but instead confining me and keeping out the
light. Although I cried on occasion, I didn’t feel unbearably sad.
Rather, I felt emotionally anesthetized, as though joy and sorrow had
been pressed out of my life. It didn’t last forever, and as I look
back, I can even say that I’m grateful for the experience. My former
grief seems like an appropriate response to the reality that my
husband’s mother, my friend, died prematurely.
So when I read the New York Times op-ed by psychiatrist and professor emeritus Allen Frances about a recent proposed change to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
(D.S.M.), I shared his concerns. Frances–chairman of the task force
that created the previous version of the D.S.M.–is no skeptic when it
comes to using therapy and medication to treat mental disorders. But he
describes this scenario: “Suppose your spouse or child died two weeks
ago and now you feel sad, take less interest and pleasure in things,
have little appetite or energy, can’t sleep well and don’t feel like
going to work. In the proposal for the D.S.M. 5, your condition would
be diagnosed as a major depressive disorder.”
This, he warns, “would be a wholesale medicalization of
normal emotion, and it would result in the overdiagnosis and
overtreatment of people who would do just fine if left alone to grieve
with family and friends, as people always have.” Although the rationale
behind the proposed change–helping people before they form
self-destructive patterns–is good, Frances argues that grief is a
necessary part of human development. To bypass grief via medicine is to
bypass a core part of our humanity.