Suicide Grief: Prolonged Grief Disorder?
What Is Prolonged Grief Disorder?
Known as complicated grief until 2022, the DSM-5 now defines complicated grief as Prolonged Grief Disorder.
The latest edition of the DSM-5, [the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] sometimes known as “psychiatry’s bible,” includes a controversial new diagnosis: prolonged grief disorder.Ellen Barry, “How Long Should It Take to Grieve? Psychiatry Has Come Up With an Answer, Ellen Barry, The New York Times, March 22, 2022
Why Suicide Grief Is Complicated
Both Complicated Grief and Prolonged Grief terms are used interchangeably when discussing grief. But Complicated Grief is not officially labeled a mental disorder. That Prolonged Grief is labeled a mental disorder in psychiatry’s the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Volume 5, has made the new term controversial.
Read more about prolonged grief disorder and what the disorder characteristically includes here: “What is Prolonged Grief Disorder”?
Frankly, I don’t see how suicide grief can’t be complicated. Having lost my son to suicide, I believe Suicide Grief (especially after losing a child to suicide) is always complicated. You can read more about the challenges inherent in grieving a suicide loss here: “5 Ways Suicide Grief is Different.”
But is Suicide Grief Prolonged Grief Disorder?
The burden of questioning “Why?” “What did I miss” “Why didn’t I know?” adds exponentially to the self-blame, shame, and guilt of suicide grief. That suicide is still stigmatized also complicates suicide grief. And the shame and rejection of losing your child to suicide? Not something easily worked through. It’s not unusual to grieve a suicide loss over the course of years.
Grieving is our normal and natural human response to…loss. It is the physical, emotional, cognitive, relational, existential, spiritual experience we all go through, in varying degrees and in various ways, after a loss.Litsa Williams, Stop Trying to Heal Your Grief
How Losing a Child to Suicide Complicates and Prolongs Grief
Complicated grief [Prolonged Grief Disorder] is characterized by intense longing, intrusive preoccupation with the circumstances of the loss, self-blame, avoidance of thoughts or memories of the deceased, avoidance of previously shared activities, and inadequate adaptation to the lossNational Library of Medicine, Grief interventions for people bereaved by suicide: A systematic review, Multiple Authors
Intense longing? Intrusive preoccupation with the circumstances of the loss? Self-blame? Avoidance of previously shared activities? Inadequate adaptation to the loss? All of these descriptors describe what I moved through the first few years after my son’s suicide. I am now 10 years out from Dylan’s memorial date. Losing a child to suicide complicates and prolongs grief.
Has my grief changed? Was it Prolonged Grief Disorder those first few years? I lost my only child, my 20 year-old, to suicide. My grief was complicated and profound. It still is, 10 years later, though I have learned to carry ache and loss. You can read more about that here: Carrying Ache and Loss in Grief.
Losing My Son to Suicide: My Grief
I lost my whole world in losing Dylan. I’ve spent the last 10 years since Dylan’s memorial date rebuilding and creating a life where I want to live on. In the early years of my grief, I simply didn’t want to live without my son. Read more about first year grief here: The First Year of Grief After Losing My Son.
The acute grief and agony of suicide loss, however, is not confined to the first year. The grief of losing a child to suicide will always be with you. But suicide grief, even losing a child to suicide grief, can be worked through with the help of support, books, and resources. See: Help, Hope, Healing After Suicide Loss: Support, Books, Resources.
But the the healing process takes as long as it takes. Grief is not something we choose; grief is our physiological response to loss.
Grief is how we process. . .loss. After loss we open our eyes to a world that in no way resembles the world we once knew. In this new world, grief is how we come to understand who we are, how we feel, and how we will survive in this new world. In grieving we create a relationship with a person who died.Litsa Williams, Stop Trying to Heal Your Grief, What’s Your Grief?
Why Prolonged Grief Disorder is Controversial
We develop the continued bonds that will evolve with us as we move forward in a world without that person. Grief allows us to turn inward [to] assess what we need from ourselves and others in this life after loss. It has the power to clarify our values and our priorities. In grief we begin to make sense of who we are in a world without a person who defined us.Litsa Williams, Stop Trying to Heal Your Grief, What’s Your Grief?
An associate professor of social work at Arizona State University, Joanne Cacciatore, has this to say about the recent addition of “Prolonged Grief Disorder” to psychiatry’s be-all, end-all manual of diagnoses:
‘I completely, utterly disagree that grief is a mental illness.’Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, How Long Should It Take to Grieve? Psychiatry Has Come Up With an Answer, Ellen Barry, The New York Times, March 22, 2022
Joanne Cacciatore has published widely on grief. She operates the Selah Carefarm, a retreat for bereaved people. She continues to explain why she disagrees that grief (Prolonged Grief Disorder) is a mental illness:
‘When someone who is a quote-unquote expert tells us we are disordered and we are feeling very vulnerable and feeling overwhelmed, we no longer trust ourselves and our emotions. To me, that is an incredibly dangerous move, and short sighted.’Dr. Joanne Cacciatore as quoted in “How Long Should It Take to Grieve? Psychiatry Has Come Up With an Answer, Ellen Barry, The New York Times, March 22, 2022
Is Suicide Grief a Prolonged Grief Disorder?
So in the end, labeling grief that lasts longer than 6 months to one year “Prolonged Grief Disorder” can help those seeking counseling gain access to a seeing a professional in the mental health field. It really all comes down to licensed clinicians being able to bill insurance companies which ensures those who want help moving through grief, get the help they need.
And seeking help from a counselor or psychiatrist is an individual choice. All grief is painful to move through, but suicide grief? And losing my only child to suicide? There aren’t even enough words to express the agony of this grief. My grief is profound and prolonged. It always will be.
I can’t even imagine trying to make it through the enormity of this grief on my own. Support groups, friendships with other parents who have lost a child to suicide, reading about grief and child loss, counseling, time out from Dylan’s suicide (10 years), walking, being in nature, art, music, and writing all help. Dylan couldn’t live with his pain, but I have found a way (most days) to live on, to move forward carrying love and loss.