GRIEF in the wake of bereavement should not be treated as an illness and treated with anti-depressants, experts claim today.
The Lancet medical journal criticises a move by the American Psychiatric Association to consider changing its advice in an authoritative manual on mental disorders to check and usually exclude bereavement before making a diagnosis of a major depressive disorder.
It says this opens the way for feelings of deep sadness, loss, sleeplessness, crying, inability to concentrate, tiredness and lack of appetite which continue for more than two weeks after a bereavement to be diagnosed as depression rather than a normal reaction to grief.
In an editorial, it says that grief is not an illness and is “more usefully thought of as part of being human and a normal response to death of a loved one”, and putting a timeframe on it is inappropriate.
It adds: “Medicalising grief, so that treatment is legitimised routinely with antidepressants, for example, is not only dangerously simplistic, but also flawed.
“The evidence base for treating recently bereaved people with standard antidepressant regimens is absent.”
The Lancet also highlights a proposal being debated by the World Health Organisation to set out details of “prolonged grief disorder”.
It says: “Bereavement is associated with adverse health outcomes, both physical and mental, but interventions are best targeted at those at highest risk of developing a disorder or those who develop complicated grief or depression, rather than for all.
“Occasionally, prolonged grief disorder or depression develops, which may need treatment, but most people who experience the death of someone they love do not need treatment by a psychiatrist or indeed by any doctor.
“For those who are grieving, doctors would do better to offer time, compassion, remembrance, and empathy, than pills.”