Grief as Mental Illness

The concept of complicated grief, where grieving is considered to be more intense, disabling or extended than normal, has been much discussed as an area where psychiatric treatment may be warranted. It’s an interesting concept because it essentially sets limits on what should be considered a normal response to personal loss. – Mind Hacks

No time to post but wanted to share this article.

Ponder what it suggests in relation to adoption related grief. This captured my attention as I have been grieving and sad for 24 years.

Kay Redfield Jamison on love and loss

21 Thoughts.

    • By that I take it you disagree KimKim? Curious what others thought about this as I was having difficulty accepting it myself. I don’t have time to explain my objections right now but do welcome others to agree or disagree with what this article suggests. I find it to be rather controversial. Any of my readers out there got their MSWs or other?

      ETA: I should note that the Kay Jamison is the author of Unquiet Mind. I found that book very disturbing (autobiography of author battle with bipolar disorder). I cannot help but wonder if I find grief as mental illness disturbing because I find the author disturbing, the suggestion disturbing, or perhaps that it might apply to me?

  1. KimKim :I need to stop reading all these negative blogs.

    Sounds like wonderful exercise in self care Kim. I have done the same in many areas. Be well.

  2. I hate the idea of grief as mental illness, especially first mother and adoptee grief, In other circumstances when mothers loose their children and children loose their mothers, earth shattering and then gentler but long term grief is expected.

    Extreme grief is a reaction to extreme loss. I think one of the problems is that we live in a world that doesn’t deal well with grief and wants it to be over, finished, mended and brands you as pathological if you dont “get over it” (which is one of the causes of adoption in the first place because infertile couples dont learn to live with the grief of infertility but want somebody else’s child to “fix” it.) I wrote about my experiences of adoptee grief here

    • Weaver – Thanks for your thoughts. You made me think of a conference session I once attended where Joyce Pavao said something like “pathologizing leads to pathology”. I couldnt agree more. I lean more towards the disenfranchised grief aspect for mothers and children separated by adoption. If society would only acknowledge that their IS grief and that adoption separation causes HARM as well as possible good, I think it would be a step in the right direction and likely help immennsely in managing the subsequent grief.

      In my case, no one told me I would be traumatized, no one offered therapy, so I stuffed everything down. For to me, saying I wasn’t handling the loss of my child well = I was proving I was not capable of raising her to begin with. It was a vicious cycle. I couldn’t acknowledge it because I might be found unstable yet not acknowledging it made me unstable.

  3. The transcript wasn’t available yet and no patience to listen…
    I’m generally suspect of the DSM IV or whatever incarnation it’s in now. It reminds me of namecalling for insurance purposes.
    Each individual situation, circumstances and bio chemistry etc is unique and has it’s own needs…

    At the same time I agree that taking responsibility for our own happiness is a rewarding an unending project.

  4. jmomma :
    Each individual situation, circumstances and bio chemistry etc is unique and has it’s own needs…

    At the same time I agree that taking responsibility for our own happiness is a rewarding an unending project.

    Jmomma – Truer words were never spoken!

  5. “Normal” grieving. As if there is such a thing. For my MSW senior capstone I’m looking at first mom and grief and have seen this pathologizing attitude go so far in one professional as to invent, “birthmother syndrome”. However, I also found Pauline Boss and her work on Ambiguous Loss.

    She talks about how grief that stems from ambiguous loss can’t end because the situation doesn’t end. Adoption is a lifetime thing and thus our grief will be a lifetime thing. This is not to say we need to dwell on it (and I’m not saying you do) but that it will never completely go away. Our society likes things in neat little boxes and if a person’s grief doesn’t fit in the size box allocated by the community then its assumed that its wrong which only makes the person feel MORE guilt and shame. I’m not saying Boss’s theories will 100% fit every first mother’s grief but after reading her goals for working with ambiguous loss and seeing the parallels between what she suggests and what first mothers seem to already be doing in the blogosphere I truely think its something professionals (grief and loss counselors, therapists, etc AND adoption professionals) need to be more aware of.

    I was trying to be coherent and brief…not sure i accomplished either…

  6. I disagree with grief being a mental illness. I feel that pent up grief with no validation can lead to mental illness such as depression but grief on its own is NOT a mental illness.

    It is a HEALTHY part of life and expected in times of loss and sorrow. To NOT grieve would be unhealthy. To pretend everything is okay and lose touch with our humanity, I would say that is unhealthy and more of a mental illness.

    Grief… everyone grieves at some time in their lives. But there is no wrong way or right way to grieve and in some instances, like adoption where the loss is ongoing and there is no real finality to it and therefore loss is renewed, grief is also an ongoing process. As long as there is acceptance of this sort of grief and validation for the losses of those involved in adoption, the grief will stay just as that. When society invalidates this grief, tells us we have no right to mourn, attacks our very essence of who we are, that is when the grief gets turned inward and we hide it away from the world and eventually it will turn into depression or another mental illness. Grief is meant to be shared, experienced outward. If people cannot cope with the grief we show, that is their issue,not ours.

    No, grief is not a mental illness.

  7. After J and G found me, and after I met them in person; when I was struck simultaneously by the familiarity of their faces and smells, along with the fact that these familiar people and I were complete strangers, I began to have a severe grief reaction. I literally could not stop crying. I would have to get up from my desk at work and go to the bathroom to sob uncontrollably.

    This intense grief went on for three years, it almost killed me. I left my job, became estranged with friends who had any connection to adoption whatsoever. I just could not deal, I was completely overwhelmed and I finally had to just give in to it and stop fighting it. I know that last part sounds bad, but once I allowed myself to wail and cry and feel the intensity, the profound loss of losing 26 years with my children, it has slowly improved. Today, I am feeling much more complete within myself than I have in many years. And yes, I still have moments when I have to grieve my loss. Adoption loss never ends. But I know now, that I will survive. I wasn’t so sure for awhile.

    My therapist pointed out that the intensity of my grief was probably compounded by the fact that I was placed in a State Run Children’s home, along with my younger sister, when I was four. I left there when I married at the ripe age of 17. Though my parents and grandparents, took us out for visits, we never lived with any of our family again. It was like being abandoned over and over again. My sister and I use to discuss how we would be so good this visit and they would let us stay this time, they wouldn’t take us back to the Home; but they always did. Anyway, I think when J and G began to pull away from me after the initial honeymoon, it triggered this grief period. It was diagnosed as complicated grief.

    During that time I did a lot of research trying to help myself. I came across this article which I feel is a reasonable description of complicated grief.

    As for the changes in the DSM, these are definitely insurance/financial driven. The scary part is that once these diagnosis are placed in you health record, they stay with you and could affect your ability to get certain insurance benefits down the road. I work in health information administration and I have seen this happen many times.

    Here is the article:

    Gosh, just re-read. Sorry for the long post, Suz.


    • Liz – Your comment made me cry. Thank you for sharing. I tend to agree with you. Your childrens reunion situation certainly seems like it could trigger a ton of grief and loss that happened before reunion as well as the loss and grief associated with adoption. I have experienced this myself. Before I lost my daughter, I lost my life (having been sent away to a maternity home), my boyfriend, my family, my college plans, etc. I erroneously rolled all that pain into the loss of her. Took me some time to separate them, work on them, grieve them all separately.

      No need to apologize for long post. I love intelligent, insightful, respectful commentary. Thank you for sharing. Will check out the article.

      (And I agree with you on the insurance motivations. I have worked in the insurance industry for almost ten years. Nowadays I am in property and casualty but years ago I worked in healthcare)

  8. I don’t have much to add here other than Weaver’s comments were spot on IMHO…
    Myst, fantastic insights…
    Katjamichelle, also tremendous response, very insightful…
    Jmomma, I loved the ‘taking responsibility for our own happiness’!!!

    Unless Suz is the world’s greatest actress I can offer as her fiance that she doesn’t dwell on being sad, unhappy, etc…I think Kimkim took her remarks out of context…then again I see things from a different perspective since I live with her, etc…
    If someone was either happy all the time or sad all the time I’d be concerned, whatever ‘normal’ human behavior is that’s not it IMHO…
    As a Cancer, I can tell you I have a dozen different mood swings in the course of a day ranging from happy to sad, mad to glad, and on and on…

  9. KatjaMichelle :

    “have seen this pathologizing attitude go so far in one professional as to invent, “birthmother syndrome”.

    KatjaMichelle – Curious, are you referring to Merry Bloch Jones here? I have heard of this and read her stuff. Birthmother syndrome would be more aptly named “clueless society that doesnt acknowlege damage adoption does to mothers syndrome”

  10. Hi Suz, I am a bit late – a few years- commenting on this, and I’m not sure why it came up now. Your posts have very interesting links and I am very interested in the idea of “complicated grief”, so I am responding now, since I’ve just read the Jamison article and the other -. I would say I am the poster child for “complicated grief.” My daughter was born in 1970, and I never spoke of her again for 36 years. She called me in 2006 and we have had a very superb reunion the last eight years now. But before she called me I had been called by a social worker, nine years before, and I could not open the door to reunion. I don’t know why. I don’t know why then and I don’t know why now, except that I knew in my mind and in my heart that I would not survive it. I desperately wanted to know my child, but I could not imagine how I was going to out myself and how I would handle The desperate grief that I felt every single day. It’s about Shame. It’s about shame and secrecy and silence. I kept wondering why I couldn’t get past it – we never really get past it, but I didn’t understand why I continued to be so emotional. To this day, if I am going to tell a person about my daughter, my experience, I think I have some PTSD symptoms and I cry. I have never told a person about the fact that I had a baby that I surrendered, without crying desperately. Why is that?. It’s complicated grief. And I have often thought that in a way I am mentally ill. It’s an illness to not be able to put it in perspective. I am a healthy functioning woman in every aspect of my life, I’m a good friend and I’m a good person, but on this one topic, I am not normal. It’s just the way it is, I accept it fully, I think it’s burdensome to my daughter, but she tolerates it and I think it was a very difficult situation. I am so thrilled when I now meet women who seem to be very grounded and not desperately emotional. That’s such a good thing. It’s not me, and I accept that too,

    • Hi Katrina! No worries on commenting years later. I leave posts here for that purpose. Things always resonate with others despite their age.

      As you likely know from reading my blog all these years, I am not normal either on this topic. Outside of it? Quite successful. Good mom to my boys, wife, person. This stuff? Reduces me every time I talk about it. Some days it is a great reduction. Others? Not so much. However it always shakes me to the core of my being.

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