Validity of the bereavement exclusion to major depression: Does the empirical evidence support the proposal to eliminate the exclusion in DSM-5?

Jerome C. Wakefield, Michael B. First

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


The DSM-IV major depression "bereavement exclusion" (BE), which recognizes that depressive symptoms are sometimes normal in recently bereaved individuals, is proposed for elimination in DSM-5. Evidence cited for the BE's invalidity comes from two 2007 reviews purporting to show that bereavement-related depression is similar to other depression across various validators, and a 2010 review of subsequent research. We examined whether the 2007 and 2010 reviews and subsequent relevant literature support the BE's invalidity. Findings were: a) studies included in the 2007 reviews sampled bereavement-related depression groups most of whom were not BE-excluded, making them irrelevant for evaluating BE validity; b) three subsequent studies cited by the 2010 review as supporting BE elimination did examine BE-excluded cases but were in fact inconclusive; and c) two more recent articles comparing recurrence of BE-excluded and other major depressive disorder cases both support the BE's validity. We conclude that the claimed evidence for the BE's invalidity does not exist. The evidence in fact supports the BE's validity and its retention in DSM-5 to prevent false positive diagnoses. We suggest some improvements to increase validity and mitigate risk of false negatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-10
Number of pages8
JournalWorld Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2012



  • Bereavement
  • DSM-5
  • Diagnosis
  • Grief
  • Harmful dysfunction
  • Major depression
  • Validity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Phychiatric Mental Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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