Extending the bereavement exclusion for major depression to other losses: evidence from the National Comorbidity Survey.
by Wakefield JC, Schmitz MF, First MB, and Horwitz AV
Archives of General Psychiatry. 2007 64:433-40.
CONTEXT: Symptoms of intense bereavement-related sadness may resemble those of major depressive disorder [MDD] but may not indicate a mental disorder. To avert false-positive diagnoses, DSM criteria for MDD exclude uncomplicated bereavement of brief duration and modest severity. However, the DSM does not similarly exempt depressive reactions to other losses, even when they are uncomplicated in duration and severity.OBJECTIVE: To test the validity of the DSM exclusion of uncomplicated depressive symptoms only in response to bereavement but not in response to other losses.DESIGN: Community-based epidemiological studyPARTICIPANTS: From the National Comorbidity Survey [NCS] of 8098 persons aged 15 to 54 years representative of the US population, we identified individuals who met MDD symptom criteria and whose MDD episodes were triggered by either bereavement [n = 157] or other loss [n = 710].INTERVENTION: We divided the bereavement and other loss trigger groups into uncomplicated and complicated cases by applying the NCS algorithm for uncomplicated bereavement to the reactions to other losses. We then compared uncomplicated bereavement and uncomplicated reactions to other losses on a variety of disorder indicators and symptoms.MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Nine disorder indicators, as follows: number of symptoms, melancholic depression, suicide attempt, duration of symptoms, interference with life, recurrence, and 3 service use variables.RESULTS: Episodes of uncomplicated depression triggered by bereavement and by other loss have similar symptom profiles and are not significantly different for 8 of 9 disorder indicators. Moreover, uncomplicated reactions, whether triggered by bereavement or other loss, are significantly lower than complicated reactions on almost all disorder indicatorsCONCLUSION: The NCS data do not support the validity of uniquely excluding uncomplicated bereavement but not uncomplicated reactions to other losses from MDD diagnosis.
After Removal from DSM-5, Why Clinicians Should Remember the Bereavement Exclusion
by Jerome C. Wakefield, PhD, DSW
Psychiatry Weekly. 8 February 18, 2013
[full text online]
After undergoing its first major overhaul in nearly 20 years, the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is slated for a May 2013 release. Of the many changes in DSM-5, one of the most controversial is the removal of the DSM-IV’s “bereavement exclusion” (BE) to major depressive disorder (MDD), which allows clinicians to defer making a clinical diagnosis of MDD when certain depressive symptoms occur within the context of recent bereavement and do not last more than 2 months. Under this exception, such an episode is classified as a “V-code,” signifying the absence of mental illness…
Dr. Wakefield’s research indicates that the BE’s rules have much to recommend them. He finds that uncomplicated bereavement-related—or other stressor-related—depressive syndromes generally have markedly lower levels of pathological features than complicated or endogenous/psychotic depressions.1,2 Also, uncomplicated depressions do not recur like other depressions; persons who experience a single episode of uncomplicated bereavement-related depression are no more likely to have a recurring depressive episode by 3-year follow-up than persons with no lifetime history of depression.“In light of solid evidence that uncomplicated bereavement-related depression is similar to uncomplicated reactions to other stressors, I and other researchers suggested expanding the BE in DSM-5 to apply to uncomplicated stressor-related depressions generally,” says Dr. Wakefield. “However, extension of the BE was rejected out of hand. Instead, based on the similarity evidence, the DSM-5 Mood Disorders Work Group argued that bereavement is not special, so the BE should be eliminated. This latter argument ultimately won the day”…
And just as a reminder, here’s one more reference for the road:
|DSM II 
300.4 Depressive neurosis
This disorder is manifested by an excessive reaction of depression due to an internal conflict or to an identifiable event such as the loss of a love object or cherished possession. It is to be distinguished from Involutional melancholia and Manic-depressive illness. Reactive depressions or Depressive reactions are to be classified here.
So the debate about removing the Bereavement Exclusion is more fundamental than just the issue of pathologizing normality [which is in itself pretty important]. It also reopens the problem created when the various depressive diagnoses were inappropriately lumped as Major Depressive Disorder in 1980 for the DSM-III. I’ll skip over the stated reasons as I don’t believe they were central [see a mistake…, further thoughts on the mistake…, yet another mistake…]. There seemed to be two related agendas in that change: removing psychoanalytic formulations from psychiatry and convincing third party carriers that we were scientists treating medical diseases, not life problems. Both were successful. The collateral damage was removing Melancholia – the classic psychiatric disease that was a major target for biological research. An unintended consequence was creating a mythical disorder [MDD] that became prime real estate for the pharmaceutical industry, corrupted science, and rampant overmedication. Another consequence was moving most practicing psychiatrists to the role of medication managers.