Psych Central

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Is Anyone Normal Today?

By Therese J. Borchard
Associate Editor

Is Anyone Normal Today?Take a minute and answer this question: Is anyone really normal today?

I mean, even those who claim they are normal may, in fact, be the most neurotic among us, swimming with a nice pair of scuba fins down the river of Denial. Having my psychiatric file published online and in print for public viewing, I get to hear my share of dirty secrets—weird obsessions, family dysfunction, or disguised addiction—that are kept concealed from everyone but a self-professed neurotic and maybe a shrink.

“Why are there so many disorders today?” Those seven words, or a variation of them, surface a few times a week. And my take on this query is so complex that, to avoid sounding like my grad school professors making an erudite case that fails to communicate anything to average folks like me, I often shrug my shoulders and move on to a conversation about dessert. Now that I can talk about all day.

Here’s the abridged edition of my guess as to why we mark up more pages of the DSM-IV today than, say, a century ago (even though the DSM-IV had yet to be born).

24 Comments to
Is Anyone Normal Today?

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  1. What a great post! I’ve been wondering if the prevalence of mental disorders is tied to our denial of emotional needs and reliance of the material for satisfaction in our lives.

    • I think the prevalence of mental disorders in this day and age is based on the need of the mental health industry to expand itself, and by extension, its profitability.

  2. Sometimes “normal” is just a setting on a dryer.

    • Marie–Love that, may have to steal it! :)

      • Dear Ann: I will consider it “stolen!” It is yours ::)

        I also like, once I thought I made a mistake, but I was wrong.

        I am here, now what are your other 2 wishes.

        I’d exercise, but I would spill my drink.

        I have many more that help keep me “normal.” LOL

    • Marie,

      Hope you don’t mind if I share that one, too. I was starting to think that there is no “normal”, that it is something different to everyone, but…I love that dryer setting MUCH better and it brings a chuckle which we always need (normal or not) : )

      • Enya: Love the name. It is yours to use!

        :)

        64 year old freshman in counseling/social work!

    • That’s a great way of putting it!

  3. Therese,

    What a fantastic post. I often tell my clients that “normal” is statistical term that has little to no bearing on real life. In fact, there is a blog post with that title sitting in my “draft” queue. So, as I was reading this, I was thinking, “Yes, yes, yes!” I think that the more of us that are writing to destigmatize and champion support & treatment when needed, the better. I can’t wait to share this.

    Thanks,
    Ann

  4. Based on questionaires, it is believed that about 50% of the population will experience some form of mental illness. But with the DSM, mental illness runs the gamut of spider phobias to schizophrenia. It is no wonder that that many people would “qualify” as mentally ill. But do the questionaires just go by check-lists of symptoms or do they ask the crucial question if the symptoms cause considerable distress? I don’t think that last question is asked. So if you fit a check-list for things that don’t really bother you, are you really mentally ill? Just think of how many people you know are afraid of spiders. Aronson wrote a book which slyly warns about using check-lists to diagnose. It may not be an epidemic of mental illness but an overuse of check-lists.

    • Tony I hear you. Any good clinician or counselor would not use the DSM as simply a book of “check-lists” as the list of symptoms are meant to help you rule out or rule in possible reasoning for the symptoms and there are other factors that are brought in such as the “four D’s” as you mentioned before.

      These 4 D’s that I mention are Deviance, Distress, Dysfunction, Danger and should ALWAYS be brought into account when thinking about labeling any individual in their specific circumstance of life with any psychopathology.

  5. This is a wonderful post with a sophisticated point of view. Diagnosis is a two-edged sword. I’d like to hear more of what you think about all this, Therese. Thanks.

  6. This is a very interesting article. There is a lot of speculation about this in many parts of the mental health sphere. I particularly get these questions about autism. What astonishes me is the ease with which people take one side – either we’re overdiagnosing autism, or our information era is to blame, or it’s the environmental toxins – and totally dismiss the other possibilities. I think it’s a little of all these, and all these factors need to be taken into account when talking about an “epidemic” (boy, do I hate that word) of autism or madness in general.

  7. So glad you brought up the issue of managed health care. As we are in the midst of health care reform, and due to the economic situation we have to be, no matter what side of the political spectrum you may be on, we simply can’t keep the system we got; Is anyone lobbying for mental health care (with MD’s, Psychiatrist, Psychologists or counselors) to be apart of a new system?

    Many research shows that vast amounts of psychosomatic aliments are actually the underlying reason for doctor and hospital visits….is this research not being looked at because mental health is still so stigmatized??

    As Therese I could go on and on as a Licensed Mental health counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist myself on this issue, which just makes my blood boil and causes the need to hit my punching bag for 30 minutes and it is far too hot and early in the morning here to go there!

  8. You know, (actually you don’t but bear with me) I am a system designer and troubleshooter by trade. Instead of labeling personality traits and behaviors as “normal” or “abnormal” it should instead be labeled “functional”, ” dysfunctional”, or ” irrelevant” to the system. You can label depression as “dysfunctional” and then break that further down into actual behaviors that make sustaining life more difficult. Sleeping all day long is not conducive to sustaining life and long lasting contentment. Once that “behavior” is identified as “dysfunctional” then the “Pavlovian trigger” can be sought after.

  9. Theresa, thank you for your well thought out article with respect to “normalcy.” The beauty of recognizing our strengths and imperfections (as given to us by ‘labels’ and ‘diagnoses’) is that we can then realize that we are part of the ‘normal’ human race.

  10. “Most experts would agree with me that there is more stress today than in previous generations.” Bull you forget that we have it much easier than previous generations. How many people immigrated here with no money no food not knowing the language no job waiting & pennyless and were stigmatized by Americans. how about on Ellis island they knew if they had disease that would be sent back after spending the only money they had…. who went to WAR. Never treated for PTSD. no stress is not bigger today we just talk about it more.

    • Mary I agree. What people mean is that they are more easilly stressed (or choose to be stressed) today then other generations. It is due to one fact IMO, we are unable to trust anybody but ourselves. welcome to the long predicted “borderline society”. we have arived.

  11. I don’t really identify closely with other people with bipolar disorder. My identity is much more associated with being the single mother of a kid with Down syndrome, and the social group of other parents with disabled kids. Within that group, I’m pretty normal in that many of my daily experiences and problems are the same ones the other parents are facing — lack of community resources, approaching adulthood, trying to work and take care of our kids. We all have other concerns unrelated to our kids, but that doesn’t make us abnormal within that group. (I haven’t taken a poll, but most of us would probably diagnose ourselves as “driven crazy” ;-). People outside that group tend to see us as unusual or abnormal, though. I guess where I’m going with this is that if you do identify heavily with other people with mental disorders, then you probably aren’t really that abnormal in that group. “What’s your diagnosis/cocktail” is just a conversation starter.

  12. Free-spirit is the only label I will use regarding myself :)

  13. Great article!

  14. Liberalism is a mental disorder.

  15. I “googled” Is anybody normal today? and lucked out with this being the first thing I was directed to! What a thoughtful well written article. I had the opportunity during the economical downturn to be a human guinea pig on this topic. I lost a job that kept me at a desk and computer most of the day. While looking for another similar job I took a nine dollar an hour job working for American Turf and Tree care. Spent a year and a half doing grueling (for me anyway) manual labor nonstop walking lifting, digging and pruning. My body screamed with pain for a month, then I got into a rythmn and got used to it. Still, I ended each long day physically exhuasted and did nothing but eat, and go to sleep. Oddly enough, all my “problems” – social anxiety, stressing about not meeting the right girl yet, boredom with my life, kinda went out the window. I was just too damn tired to feel anything except pretty damn tired. Also, my body grew strong, lost the pot belly that was starting to creep up on me, and I felt better, physically, that I had since high school. Our ancestors largely toiled on a family farm or in some kind of factory all day long. Now 2% of people live on farms and the factories appear to have all gone to China lol. Is it possible past generations were just too tired to worry about the state of their emotions? It is a thought. Now, I am back in a cubicle farm, but exercise religiously to try and keep the emotional crap in check. It helps.

  16. Dyslexia is no more about being stupid and lazy as deafness is about being dumb. My daughter is dyslexic and worked her tail end off in elementary school, foregoing playing outside like the other children, many nights till 9 pm and then again at breakfast the next morning all so she wouldn’t fail school. If asked verbally the information she could run circles around her classmates. These examples show she was neither stupid, nor lazy. Dyslexia is a real disorder in which the brain miscommunicates what the child is seeing on written paper. It is not imaginary and has nothing to do with effort or intelligence! Stop fueling the fire by using lousy examples by misinformed persons in your articles.

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