Blog Post Goes Viral: MISS Foundation + Over 75K Readers Denounce DSM 5 Changes to Bereavement Exclusion

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Proposed changes to the Bereavement Exclusion in the 2013 American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5 – DSM 5 – have sparked an outcry in the bereavement community, largely due to MISS Foundation founder Dr. Joanne Cacciatore’s March 1, 2012 blog that went viral over the weekend, with more than 75,000 hits through today.

The dignity of normal grief deserves respect, not diagnosis

Proposed changes to the Bereavement Exclusion in the 2013 American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5 – DSM 5 – have sparked an outcry in the bereavement community, largely due to MISS Foundation founder Dr. Joanne Cacciatore’s March 1, 2012 blog that went viral over the weekend, with more than 75,000 hits through today. The forthcoming DSM 5 allows providers – psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists – to diagnose Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), a serious mental disease, at their discretion two weeks following the death of a loved one. This prescribed timeframe continues to shrink, from one year in DSM III to two months in the last manual, DSM IV.

Cacciatore, professor and researcher at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona and founder of the MISS Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting grieving families whose children have died or are dying, emphasizes that grief is a normal human reaction to traumatic death, not an illness. As Cacciatore fervently argues in her blog, another time reduction “further pathologizes the authentic human experience of sorrow” and “perpetuates the medicalization of normal human emotion.”

Cacciatore is not alone in denouncing DSM 5 as the “Bible of Psychiatry” and, like many others, opposes the use of psychopharmaceuticals as a first line of treatment for normal bereavement. Other experts in the field have weighed in on the issue:

“The dignity of normal grief deserves respect, not diagnosis,” says psychiatrist Allen Frances, MD, chair of the DSM IV task force and outspoken critic of the DSM 5 proposed revisions. Frances also warns of the risks of DSM 5’s “medicalization of normal grief into a mental disorder.” Last month, the prestigious medical journal the Lancet published its own criticism calling on psychiatrists to offer “time, compassion, and remembrance, not pills.”

David Elkins, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Pepperdine University in California, states, “When we lose a child, our grief is not a medical condition. It’s a sign of love and a deeply human response to unspeakable and painful loss.” He goes on to say that labeling parents suffering from the loss of a child as having a mental disorder and possibly treating them with powerful psychiatric drugs "says more about the ‘sickness’ of some in the psychiatric establishment than it does about bereaved parents.”

The swift reaction of the bereaved community to Cacciatore’s blog indicates a collective concern for fair treatment of and understanding for those in the throes of grief. Such a response also points to the need for the review and possible reversal of the proposed time change in the APA’s DSM 5.

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Joanne Cacciatore, PhD, LMSW, FT

Press Release Writer: Mary Ann Bashaw

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