If I convince you that your thinking and behaviors are problematic, to the point where I can create a psychological label to attach to your symptoms, would you then be motivated to try and find a cure to fix your problem? And if I cranked up the rhetoric and frightened you even more by telling you those symptoms are not only problematic, but evidence of mental illness, what would you do then?
Well that is precisely the criticism of the drug industry today where a “mental illness” like ADHD is created by human beings from a cluster of everyday subjective symptoms nearly impossible to accurately and reliably measure. Things like having your mind race, being fidgety in your seat, forgetting things from time to time, and occasionally making careless mistakes, are all normal experiences for all human beings — but these challenges are no longer accepted as normal but instead labelled a mental disorder called ADHD. And while there is no real need to “fix” these symptoms by means of drugs, the drug industry doesn’t want you to waste your time putting out human effort when you can simply consume the drugs they sell to you indefinitely for the rest of your life.
Nobody is questioning the symptoms
There is no doubt that people regularly experience symptoms attributed to ADHD, and most can agree that those symptoms can range from mildly annoying to big challenges to overcome. Yes, forgetting things and struggling with focus are real human experiences, but are they indicators of psychopathology and mental illness? If we go down this road of casually accepting that normal human challenges are actually “mental illness,” where does that leave other normal (albeit annoying) human challenges? If you struggle with any of the following similarly problematic symptoms, should they also be grouped in the category of mental illness?
- Struggles with studying to get good grades at school?
- Learning how to effectively tamp down nerves to give a speech in front of a group of people?
- Working hard to lose weight but regularly challenged by eating unhealthy foods?
- Failing to successfully stop smoking?
- Having the motivation to cut the grass and take out the trash when laying on the couch and watching a game is more appealing?
Yes, as the late Dr. Scott Peck started his famous book The Road Less Traveled with the words life is difficult, we must ask ourselves if it is in our collective best interest to transform normal life challenges into legitimate psychopathology? And if we make that casual acceptance, are we not more vulnerable to treating said mental illness with potentially dangerous drugs? And how would this approach differ from simply acknowledging that you currently aren’t real good at some things right now (i.e. focusing in boring classes at school), but with some life skills development, encouragement, and positive reinforcement you could improve in this area — and without the potential dangers of daily drug usage?
Before you get defensive, challenge your thinking!
By now it is understandable if you are thinking what is this guy talking about? Does he not understand how tough it is to live with ADHD? My answer to that is twofold: One, I have no doubt the symptoms you experience are real and that they are challenging, if not a major burden in your life. But my second opinion is that not every life challenge should be viewed as “mental illness,” if not only for the potential drug worries, but also the self-fulfilling prophecies that often develop leaving people to feel as though they are flawed, limited, and unable to improve upon their condition without outside help by means of drugs. YES, it does stink to be challenged to sit still and pay attention! But is this something that can be framed as a relatively normal experience for most people (yes), and can this be improved upon through motivation, life skills development, patience, and determination? YES! And remember as Dr. Peck talked about life is difficult, so while positive change may not be easily achieved overnight, changes can occur if you stick with it and believe you can do it.
Human beings create “mental illness,” and we can sometimes be too casual when it comes to defining what is and isn’t a mental illness. When we grab a collection of annoying symptoms and transform them into a mental illness, it creates a paradigm where people become vulnerable to self-fulfilling prophecies and develop a pessimistic mindset, as opposed to framing their issues as healthy challenges that can be overcome with the right mindset and life skill tools. Yes, it may and likely will require some hard work, but even the experience of working to solve a personal problem will lead to greater self-efficacy and confidence, contributing to improved self-esteem and increased chances for future happiness and success.