Category Archives: Complicated Grief

Losing a Parent and Obesity

An intriguing new study just published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine suggests a link between the death of a parent in childhood (or prolonged separation) and obesity as an adult. Researchers in Italy interviewed 120 patients who were undergoing pre-surgical psychiatric consultation for bariatric surgery. Overall, 28 percent of the patients reported a childhood parental death or separation (and a whopping 91 percent were diagnosed with bipolar spectrum disorder.) Of course, this in no way means that people who lose their parents when young will become obese, but it does suggest that both mental illness and trauma (and not just genetics or a lack of willpower as is commonly thought) may play a role in obesity.

The Truth About Widowhood

In the past decade, social scientists with unprecedented access to large groups of widows and widowers have learned that, as individual an experience as grief may be, there are specific patterns to its intensity and duration that are arguably more helpful in guiding the bereaved in what to expect. Isn’t it time we update our popular notions about widowhood as well?

Read more from my Op-Ed in the New York Times, February 15th, 2011.

New Ways To Think About Grief

A five-page adaptation from The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss, has just been published in the current issue of Time Magazine.

“New Ways To Think About Grief,” Time Magazine, January 24, 2011,9171,2042372,00.html

Is Grief An Illness?

Clinicians have been arguing whether grief is an illness for decades. The latest round in the debate is over whether what’s known as the “grief exclusion” should be taken out of the criterion for major depression in DSM-5, the upcoming edition of the diagnostic manual used by mental health professionals. In the current edition, the grief exclusion states that someone who was bereaved within the last two months is not eligible for a diagnosis of major depression. (Bereavement also makes an appearance as a “V code” in the section in the back of the manual for disorders that are not reimburseable by insurance.)  In an Op-Ed in the New York Times, Allen Frances, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at Duke University who has become a vocal critic of DSM-5, warned that eliminating the grief exclusion would lead to the ”wholesale medicalization of normal emotion.” The doctors in charge of the decision  responded that “most bereaved individuals do not develop major depression, although they may feel terrible sadness. Major depression—the clinical syndrome—is quite different from feeling sad and blue. It also involves marked, peristent changes in function like sleep, appetite and cognition, and sometimes suicidal thinking. ” This confusion is common, but perhaps even more so in the case of bereavement. Ever since Kübler-Ross made depression one of her five stages, people see it as a normal reaction to grief. Let’s hope that the Mood Disorders Work Group for DSM-5 can help clarify the distinction.