What Is Normal?

Seems like a simple question, until we have to describe it to someone else.  

Normal is like me!
Not necessarily so by a long shot, depending on who you are!  But the fact remains that in our American culture the definition of normality has been made the responsibility of a select group of professionals in a profession that really didn’t exist 200 years ago – psychiatry.  Now psychiatrists are responsible for generating a compendium of defined mental illnesses, which is in turn used to diagnose people and prescribe treatments for them.  At some level that I’m not familiar with, I’m sure this all gets linked in to money via insurance companies and what they will or won’t pay for treatment or medication for.
The compendium is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – the DSM for short.  The fifth edition of this volume comes out next year.  Changes in this manual may seem to be relegated to a very small subgroup of professional psychiatrists, sort of an in-house guide that doesn’t really impact the larger world.  
Unfortunately that’s not the case.  Perhaps the most famous impact of a change to a volume that few people outside the world of psychiatry and medicine have ever heard about came in 1973, when homosexuality was removed as a diagnosed mental illness from the second edition of the DSM.  
Now a movement is on by some in the arena of psychiatry to classify grief and mourning as mental health problems.  Using a variety of possible terms and definitions, grief could be categorized as a form of mental illness if it has not abated in as little as two weeks after a traumatic event, such as the death of a spouse.  This despite no small amount of data that suggests that mourning and it’s effects are ‘normal’ as long as two years after the death of a spouse.
If this new classification is ratified, then people experiencing grief could be diagnosed as having a disorder, and they would have easier access to (and insurance payment for) anti-depressants and other products that aim to dull the effects of grief.  Grief would become even more of a social stigma than it already is.  Those dealing with grief would now also be dealing with even greater levels of guilt associated with that grief.  The cumulative effect seems terrible on our culture, with only the drug companies apparently benefiting from this sort of move.  
How long should it take you to get over a traumatic event?  Is it appropriate for a small group of a highly specialized profession to make this sort of massive decision, and on what basis?  No, this sort of thing isn’t unusual – our lives are remarkably regulated by small groups of specialized ‘experts’ in literally every arena from what we eat (and how it is labeled) to how we act.  Perhaps this recent move in a long line of human regulation will give us a moment to pause and reflect on whether or not this is such a wise thing.  
Just don’t pause too long – you may be diagnosed with a mental illness.

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