- Prolonged grief disorder was added to a key manual used by mental health experts that includes standards for assessing and diagnosing mental health conditions.
- The formal recognition of the disorder will help medical professionals be properly reimbursed for providing medical care.
- It will also help researchers secure funding to research the condition.
Prolonged grief disorder is now officially recognized as a mental health condition by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
The condition occurs when someone experiences extensive and intense feelings of grief after losing a loved one.
In some cases, the grief can persist for more than 1 year and begin to cause disruptions to the person’s physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Prolonged grief disorder was added to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5)”, a manual that includes standards for assessing and diagnosing mental health conditions.
The formal recognition of the disorder will help medical professionals be properly reimbursed for providing medical care. It will also help researchers secure funding to research the condition.
“Because many of us live in a diagnosis-centered society, the addition of prolonged grief will allow those who experience it to feel more validated in their emotions. It will help therapists and mental health professionals because insurance claims can be more easily verified around grief-related experiences,” said Kassondra Glenn, LMSW, a licensed psychotherapist and a consultant with Prosperity Haven Treatment Center.
Grief is a common, normal human emotion, and a natural reaction to loss.
Grief affects everyone differently, said Christina Nolan, LSCW-R, a psychotherapist in New York City who specializes in working with adults experiencing depression, anxiety, and difficult life transitions.
“It may be difficult to concentrate, perform normal activities, or sleep may be impaired. There may also be intense waves of different emotions, or feeling intensely overwhelmed,” she said.
Grief typically resolves within 6 to 12 months, but some people may continue to experience the symptoms of grief and develop prolonged grief disorder.
Over time, they may see a decline in physical, emotional, or spiritual health, said Nolan.
According to the APA, symptoms of prolonged grief disorder include emotional numbness, intense emotional pain and loneliness, identity disruption, and disbelief about the person’s death.
“Grief can completely derail functioning. It is not linear and often shows up in unexpected ways,” Glenn said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a tremendous toll with an estimated 970,000 people dead from COVID-19 in just the United States alone.
Many people were unable to be with their loved ones when they died or were unable to attend their funeral services due to coronavirus restrictions.
In addition, social isolation broke down people’s support networks and triggered feelings of loneliness.
“These pandemic-related changes may have caused a person’s grieving process to be interrupted or prolonged,” says Nolan.
By adding prolonged grief disorder to the DSM-5, the APA has made it easier for doctors treating prolonged grief to be reimbursed for any care they provide related to it.
“This would, in theory, allow people continuing to struggle with grief to receive treatment for it when otherwise they would not have been able to,” Nolan said.
The addition to the DSM-5 is also expected to help researchers access funding to research the causes, risk factors, and treatment methods for prolonged grief disorder.
Glenn thinks the addition could help people experiencing grief, an already complicated and unpredictable emotion, feel more validated in their emotions.
“It will allow people to have more accurate language around their grief, and perhaps allow grief to become a more acceptable [and] integrated experience in society,” Glenn said.
Prolonged grief disorder is now officially recognized as a mental health condition by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). It occurs when someone experiences extensive and intense feelings of grief after experiencing loss.
The disorder was added to the DSM-5, which will help scientists secure more funding to research the condition and allow mental health care professionals to be reimbursed for treating people with the condition.