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Specific diagnosis can be relief to those who suffer, not a stigma

Joan Wickersham’s claim that grief doesn’t have a timeline is correct (“Grief disorder?” Op-ed, Feb. 8). However, she misunderstands the very point of defining complicated grief as a specified, debilitating, prolonged form of grief that can be differentiated from usual forms of grief. The idea is to promote a greater understanding of the condition and, through scientific research, possible interventions for it.

Sometimes the circumstances or consequences of a loss can overwhelm a person’s ability to cope with it effectively. In fact, Wickersham suggests that this happened to her. If people had called what she was experiencing complicated grief, she writes, that would have meant that they were judging her. Apparently she considers the diagnosis of a mental disorder to be a judgment, not a helpful step on the pathway to healing.

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Sadly, there may be others who feel as she does, but there are also many of the estimated 10 percent of bereaved people with complicated grief who find the diagnosis to be a tremendous relief. They rightly perceive that someone finally understands their struggle.

We need to fight stigma, not refrain from diagnosing and treating mental disorder. People with complicated grief need kindness and support from friends and family members, and professionals who can understand and help them heal.

Dr. Naomi M. Simon


Dr. M. Katherine Shear

New York

The writers are directors of respective complicated grief programs at Massachusetts General Hospital and at Columbia University School of Social Work.

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