American Psychiatric Association Establishes New Disorder For Prolonged Grief

When experiencing the tragedy of losing someone dear to you, you may start to notice significant mental health impacts as a result. Much of the time, a normal and healthy response to such a loss is known as grief, leading to intense and unpleasant feelings. While grief can be a healing journey, there are times it may interfere with your daily life.

According to Verywell Mind, grief looks very similar to another common mental health condition known as depression, which can have physical effects such as intense sadness, insomnia, poor appetite, and weight loss. But it can help to understand the differences between the two in order to get the help you need. 

One of the biggest distinctions between the two is that grief tends to diminish over time, while depression typically does not diminish without proper interventions (via Verywell Mind). While people with depression are more prone to have negative thoughts and feelings about themselves like worthlessness and guilt, those with grief may have difficulty accepting the loss and may experience emotions like anger, sadness, and irritability.

But what if grief doesn't diminish over time? 

Understanding prolonged grief disorder can lead to better treatment

Symptoms of depression must be ongoing for at least two weeks to be diagnosed as such. On the other hand, diagnosing grief has had a complicated history. But now, the American Psychiatric Association has added a new disorder to its diagnostic manual (DSM-5) called prolonged grief disorder (per The New York Times).

Prolonged grief disorder dates back to the 1990s when Dr. Holly Prigerson recognized that a small percentage of bereaved patients who were administered antidepressants had alleviated depression symptoms, but their grief didn't subside (via WebMD). In 2010, the idea of commingling diagnoses of depression and grief brought about concerns of overdiagnosis and overmedication from the medical community. As researchers continued to study grief throughout the years, it became clear that the condition was less associated with depression and more associated with stress disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder.

A key indicator of prolonged grief disorder is time. If someone is still experiencing overwhelming loss and can't return to normal activities a year after the loss occurred, it may be diagnosed as prolonged grief (via WebMD). With this definition officially in the books, researchers can seek funding for treatments. Currently, the addiction medication Naltrexone is undergoing clinical trials for grief therapy.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.