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Labeling Grief A Mental Disorder Sparks Strong Debate

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Bipolar disorder. Schizophrenia. And now, grief?

The American Psychiatric Association wants to re-classify grief symptoms as a mental disorder.

As CBS 2's Dana Kozlov reports, the move is upsetting doctors and counselors alike.

Those against the idea say grief is a normal process. Anyone who loses someone or something they love experiences it, they say.

So, they argue removing it from treatment manuals could have major repercussions.

Those in favor of the change say it's meant to help by ensuring people don't remain stuck in a state of bereavement.

Megan Lawless was just 6-years-old when her father, Richard, took his own life.

"I remember being confused," she said.

Eventually, her mom took her to Rainbows, an organization that helps kids deal with grief.

It helped.

"I don't think that my grief at the time qualified as any sort of clinical depression that needed medication. I think I was just a sad little kid." Lawless said.

But soon, grief--or bereavement--may no longer be a word used by psychiatrists.

The American Psychiatric Association wants to remove bereavement from a major diagnostic text and lump grief's symptoms under a depression diagnosis.

In other words, grief would become a mental disorder.

"To label something that naturally happens I really fell adds a more of a stigma to it," said Rainbows founder Suzy Yehl-Marta.

Yehl-Marta believes the re-classification could keep some people from getting the right kind of help.

Her biggest concern?

"That people who are grieving will be treated like patients rather than fellow human beings and that they will be over medicated," she said.

Those in favor of the move say it could keep some people from getting stuck in their grief, thus slipping through treatment cracks.

Dr. Louis Kraus, of the Rush University Medical Center, says it's not that simple.

"Having to put it under a more significant diagnostic category such as a major depressive episode could potentially have a higher likelihood of impacting insurability," he said.

Yehl-Marta said: "The best way to help people is to offer them compassion."

Nobody is dismissing the fact that some people who experience grief could plunge into clinical depression, requiring further treatment. However, opponents say, grief alone is not a disorder.

The APA is accepting feedback now. The new Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders will be finalized next year.

Parents looking for grief support for their children or people who would like more information can email or visit the Rainbows International Grief Support website.

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