According to the Los Angeles Times, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) recently added prolonged (complicated) grief disorder as an official psychiatric diagnosis, giving people who suffer from debilitating grief a name for the disorder. What does this mean for the poor soul suffering this excruciating disorder? It means that they can now identify their disorder by name, and seek out medical and psychiatric assistance for recovery.
In the past, survivors suffering debilitating grief were basically on their own to find a remedy and recover from their disorder. The work place is not obligated to accommodate grief recovery, only bereavement leave. It has been my experience that the work place has generally accepted two to three days as an appropriate time for bereavement leave. This slight recognition ignores the emotional affects of loss, and does not allow additional time to recover from the deep emotional and psychological trauma that comes with such a catastrophic experience.
If you break your limb and your doctor casts it, there is physical evidence that something is wrong, that will possibly require recuperation away from work. Your doctor might also send a note to your employer requiring that you receive a prescribed time of light duty or time off completely. In these cases, there is no question; your work is going to accommodate your needs during this time.
If your spouse or child suffers an accident severe enough to take his or her life, your employer may give you 2 to 3 days off work for funeral services. Unfortunately, they expect you back; bright eyed and bushy tailed as soon as the gravedigger covers up your loved one with earth. Fulfilling the customary ritual within our society, your co-workers and company of employment may send words and flowers of condolences for the services. The problem comes into play, when they fail to realize that although your loved one lost his or her life, you have lost your loved one. The wound to your soul, although invisible, is greater and more significant than any physical wound you will ever suffer. It appears that if your wounds are without outward marks of trauma, they are unrecognized as noteworthy. Perhaps with this new designation from the DSM, recognition is on the cusp of change.
As a funeral practitioner, I have seen a significant number of my clients; lose their jobs because they could not bring themselves to return to work after only 3 days of bereavement leave. These clients suffered significant losses of either their spouse or their child. Losses one would naturally expect would take more than three days from which to recover. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) established in 1993, provides for up to 12 weeks unpaid leave per year for employees to address serious health conditions, care for a newborn or adopted child, recovery from illness, or care for a sick family member. It fails to recognize even one day for recovery from familial loss.
Familial loss inflicts a severe wound to one's soul. The psychological effects of such trauma can be devastating, and if left untreated or unresolved, may progress into a debilitating illness. The ensuing illness may manifest itself in mental and/or physical ailments. At this juncture, the FMLA may become applicable, as the survivor potentially qualifies for leave under personal serious illness. Isn’t it sad, however, that survivors suffer grief to such a serious level, when it could have been treated early on, possibly preventing other illnesses from manifesting themselves. Even with treatment to these new illnesses, the underlying cause remains unaddressed and may, therefore, continue to cause poor and degenerating health.
During the Victorian Era, families wore black for one full year after the loss of a significant loved one. In so doing, they were notifying others that they were in a state of grief, that they would be functioning at a lower than anticipated level of competency, that they might be inexplicably melancholy and that they might require kindness and consideration during their daily activities and responsibilities. The Victorians automatically allowed considerations for the bereaved, yet in modern society, we barely recognize it as significant. Perhaps the identification of “Prolonged Grief Disorder” by the DSM will bring new awareness, research, recognition and treatment for those who suffer the catastrophic effects of complicated grief.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a funeral director, author and freelance writer. I write books, weekly articles and brief tips on understanding and coping with grief. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.