Defining who is and isn’t mentally ill these days can be an incredibly complex proposition. We are now witnessing an entire millennial generation that regularly talk about mental illness, but can all these young people really be mentally ill? Compounding matters are an ever-loosening DSM (the standard classification of mental disorders) that allows mental health clinicians to more easily diagnose people with mental illness, an increasing number of family physicians who provide psychotropic medications upon request (often without any psychological diagnosis taking place), and a pharmaceutical industry laser focused on directly marketing and advertising drugs to consumers. Are we this mentally ill as a country, or are we morphing into a less-equipped life ready generation of people who too quickly assume they are mentally ill when in fact they are confronted by normal — albeit challenging — life problems?
Changes in thinking & perception
It wasn’t that long ago where people who struggled with legitimate mental illness conditions also dealt with stigmas suggesting they were deficient in some way, and these people largely kept their diagnoses private as a result. Today, however, we are witnessing a major paradigm shift when it comes to mental health, as increasingly more people not only fully acknowledge and accept their mental challenges, but they sometimes publicize their personal struggles out through social media for the world to see.
Are these people really those things? Have they been formally diagnosed for those conditions? Or are they trendy, convenient excuses for coming up short — or not even trying? How many of these individuals have actually been diagnosed for the conditions they say they are, or are they just self-ascribing labels they think fit their personal issues? And when you say “I’m _______,” what does that even mean — that you’re doomed for the rest of your life by becoming something? The point here is that mental illness is a serious concern and not something we should talk about in such casual ways for a number of reasons, including how it deligitimizes those who are suffering from true mental illness, as well as how it can lead some to believe they have a genetic condition that they can never overcome.
Labels and self-fulfilling prophecies
Victim-hood through improper mental illness labels can lead to far greater problems than what the individual dealt with in the first place in order to receive their original label. For example, take Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). If you view your waning focus and attention as actually normal characteristics displayed by adults (especially when engaged in activities we don’t find interesting), then you will simply dismiss your inattentiveness as “being bored.” Conversely, if you have been convinced into thinking that having attention that sometimes drifts is psycho-pathological, then your self-image is that of inadequacy. From there, your thinking can become a self-fulfilling prophecy — “Why should I even try, I’m ADD.” This “damaged goods” way of looking at oneself is often far more limiting than the original nuisance of simply not being able to sustain attention in boring life situations.
Life is difficult
Life can be a difficult personal experience. Every day we face challenging people, situations, and problems, and developing the life skills and resources necessary to overcome these hurdles is no easy task. Stress is all around us, every moment of the day — from running late to work, to dealing with traffic, to performing our jobs (and school) well, to being a great spouse/parent within our families. In fact, life is full of stress, adversity, frustration, and failure when you think of it. Does this mean we are “mentally ill” when we become anxious and depressed dealing with it all? Or are we a generally healthy species, but challenged on a moment-by-moment basis to survive and thrive? The answer to that question is an individual one, but how you answer it will determine if you view life as a constant challenge, or instead see yourself as inadequate in some way, and limited by mental illness.
The labels and language we throw around — often casually — play a big part on our self-perception, as well as how others view and treat us. These days, mental illnesses are talked about so often and casually that it’s become a blurred line when examining who is mentally healthy, versus mentally ill? There’s also a lot of ignorance out there as people often overlook that mental illnesses are largely subjective appraisals, and not determined by blood work or other physiological measures. So, unlike other diseases, you don’t “get” a mental illness, and it shouldn’t limit you the rest of your life. Adding potentially dangerous drugs to address questionable mental illnesses can actually compound problems, adding yet another layer of concern to this discussion. Get the facts so you can deal with mental illness in healthy and effective ways.