Last week Apple launched their new operating system (iOS7), providing iphone users with a new interface and a more streamlined way of accessing information. Apple seems to regularly “re-shuffle the deck” when it comes to how it organizes data, as evidenced by this latest operating system update.
Using the Apple OS as a model, it could be argued that mental health could use a similar facelift, especially as it applies to how we diagnose and classify “mental disorders.” While it is true the new DSM just came out this year, rather than simplifying mental health, many have argued it has only made things more confusing by expanding the number of disorders and loosening the criteria used for diagnosing. Instead of streamlining things (as Apple regularly does), the DSM become more cumbersome and comprehensive, and set up to make it seem that just about all of us suffer from some kind of mental illness.
Increasingly more people feel we have gone overboard when it comes to labeling every quirk, hiccup, misstep, and odd behavior by quickly finding a mental health label to fit those who do things differently. What is normal? Abnormal? What is a mental disorder? These distinctions have always been difficult to make, but the trend in place today is toward diagnosing seemingly everyone for everything.
Abnormal or “Mental Illness?”
We have seen a recent trend in television programming that highlights various people that are, well, “different.” Hoarders are showcased, so too are sexual deviants, as well as a number of other shows based on odd human thinking and behaviors. These shows are almost always well received and quite popular viewing for people who like to watch “abnormal” people. Interestingly, all of these people have a form of mental illness according to the DSM, yet pop culture features them as stars of tv shows.
The problem, however, is when the lights turn off and these people are then viewed by the mental health world as having “mental illness” or a “mental disorder.” Once these labels are attached, just the sound of them makes it sound like these people are helpless, hopeless, and lepers to run away from at all costs. In our world today, once you have a mental illness or disorder you are doomed — sadly, it’s almost like getting the worst tattoo ever without any hope of it being removed.
These labels also have a dramatic impact on future chances for healing, as well as treatment options. First, once a person is labeled something, he or she almost always lives up to the self-fulfilling prophecy they think they should become. Labeled Bipolar? Chances are you will live that way. OCD? Again, you’ll probably start doing even more of your OCD behaviors because you think you are supposed to do those things.
If the labels weren’t concerning enough, the ways in which we treat “mental disorders” today is almost always with some type(s) of psycho-pharmacological medication that carries a slew of side-, interaction-, and withdrawal effects. A simple Google search will reveal thousands of articles and stories about victims of untested, quickly rushed to market drugs designed to help people but in reality only cause them more pain and distress! The “Black Box” on the side of these medications will outline all of these concerns for those looking for more evidence.
But What if We Didn’t Call it “Mental illness?”
Because of the dangers of self-fulfilling prophecies, as well as the rampant usage of psychiatric drugs used to treat “mental disorders,” it might be time for us to more closely examine how Apple re-tools and simplifies its operating system every couple years. Rather than using scary labels like “mental illness,” what if we called some of these less serious issues “Life Stressors?” Take for example ADHD – an extremely questionable “disorder” to begin with, might it be more practical to call this a Life Stressor rather than a “mental disorder,” a label that will only be a burden to the recipient for the rest of his or her life (good luck with life insurance later down the road – rates will be increased because of the “mental disorder”).
To date, there is no mental illness called “Bad Driving Disorder,” yet each year millions of people suffer terrible consequences from not being a skilled driver. What about all the terrible effects we all feel having to eat a meal prepared by a terrible cook? Will “Poor Cooking Personality Disorder” be in the next DSM? Undoubtedly there will be drug treatments available the moment these conditions are assigned mental disorder titles.
The reality is that the way we label and classify “issues” determines both the optimism of the person assigned the condition, as well as the methods we use in treating the condition. If we were to carve out a category of “Life Stressors,” I have no doubt those assigned that title would not only show a higher degree of motivation and fortitude toward recovery, but would also be less likely to feel as though they need a handful of drugs to cure them of their condition.