Nightly News   |  January 25, 2012

Grief may be characterized as a disorder

Psychiatrists are debating whether or not to change the definition of depression in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports.

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>>> we are back with a controversial question tonight. can you be diagnosed with grief? more than that, should you be given a pill for it? scientists are debating whether to classify the pain we feel after a loved one dies as a disorder, and something that could be treated with medication. this as anti-depressant use in the u.s. has jumped almost 400% in the last three-year period. our report from nbc's anne thompson .

>> reporter: death is an inevitable part of life, and so is the pain that follows, but is it a disorder? grief would be labeled a mental disorder under a proposed change in the diagnostic mark mancun ul for the american psychiatric association .

>> the reason to do that is so clinicians can consider the possibility of whether to treat a major depression in someone who's recently bereaved.

>> reporter: critics say it would stigmatize what is part of the normal human condition .

>> we are, in fact, making it so unhappiness seems to be something wrong with you rather than a signal that you should do better in your life or retool your life somehow.

>> reporter: andrea and keith have known that gut-wrenching pain for almost three years after losing their 22-year-old daughter stephanie to colon cancer .

>> i miss her contagiousless.

>> reporter: they say they reclaimed their lives.

>> your mind doesn't allow you to fully accept the impact.

>> reporter: many fear the new label would lead to a dramatic increase in the use of anti-depressants, already taken by 1-10 americans, an $11 billion a year business.

>> if you classify grief as a disorder, it becomes a target for treatment and for especially medication.

>> reporter: supporters say drug therapy should not be an obstacle or the only answer.

>> it's not an essential, but one of the tools in our tool box for depression. there are very good psychotherapies for depression.

>> reporter: a difficult subject for the pain we will all feel, and the doctors who want to help. anne thompson , nbc news, new york.