One of the charges leveled against psychiatry’s diagnostic categories is that they are often “politically motivated.” If that were true, the framers of the DSM-5 probably would have retained the so-called “bereavement exclusion” — a DSM-IV rule that instructed clinicians not to diagnose major depressive disorder (MDD) after the recent death of a loved one (bereavement) — even when the patient met the usual MDD criteria. An exception could be made only in certain cases; for example, if the patient were psychotic, suicidal, or severely impaired.
And yet, in the face of fierce criticism from many groups and organizations, the DSM-5 mood disorder experts stuck to the best available science and eliminated this exclusion rule.
The main reason is straightforward: most studies in the past 30 years have shown that depressive syndromes in the context of bereavement aren’t fundamentally different from depressive syndromes after other major losses — or from depression appearing “out of the blue.” (see Zisook et al, 2012, below). At the same time, the DSM-5 takes pains to parse the substantial differences between ordinary grief and major depressive disorder.
Unfortunately, the DSM-5’s decision continues to be misrepresented in the popular media.