Turning grief into a profitable disease

“Pleasure puts you to sleep and pain wakes you up,” an Indian sage once said, yet in the United States we live in a culture that prizes painlessness far more than wakefulness. Indeed, we are increasingly being encouraged to pathologize pain at moments when we would otherwise be called to wrestle with life’s meaning. The latest edition of the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (due for publication in May) which is the bible of psychiatry, regards grief as a disease. Following the death of a loved one, depression occurring within a few weeks can be treated as an illness in need of a pharmaceutical cure. The pain of loss can and supposedly should be chemically dissolved. All too predictably, the support that was once provided by other people is coming instead to be provided by pills. Instead of recognizing grief as an appropriate response to death and the profoundly difficult transitions that come in its wake, a human experience is being turned into a neurotransmitter imbalance and in the process a huge business opportunity is being opened up for companies like GlaxoSmithKline.

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