Sadness is not a Disorder

Could this be the beginning of a trend toward a healthy criticism of our diagnostic system? First were articles about shyness not being a disorder and now sadness. I might even become a teeny bit optimistoc if this keeps up.

From yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer:

In recent decades, what is meant by depression - the range of the psychiatric diagnosis - has expanded dramatically. Indeed, too much. Depression, for many doctors, therapists, and for our society at large, has come to encompass feelings of sadness that are not disorders at all.

We may be in danger of losing the notion of normal human sadness. And that would be a loss for our sense of humanity.

Consider Mother Teresa. In September, the book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light was published. It contained letters in which Mother Teresa struggles with profound doubts about the existence of God, wrestling with desolation, emptiness and despair. Although no psychiatrist has suggested she was suffering from a psychiatric disorder, her experiences - remarkably enough - would likely qualify for a diagnosis of clinical depression according to current official psychiatric criteria.

These criteria, laid out in a handbook titled Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, or DSM for short, describing anyone who for two weeks suffers from at least five out of these possible symptoms - sadness; diminished interest or pleasure in daily activities; difficulties in sleeping or eating; physical slowing down or restlessness; fatigue; feelings of worthlessness or guilt; diminished ability to think or concentrate; and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide - can be diagnosed as having clinical depression.

Why does the person have these feelings? Judging from the DSM, that does not seem to matter. (The only exception: recently bereaved people. They are not considered depressed if their symptoms are not unusually severe or do not persist beyond two months.) 

© Cheryl Fuller, 2018. All  rights reserved.