What used to be thought of as normal grieving, a sensitive personality or an emotional reaction to an unanticipated situation seems to become more and more routinely viewed as a “mental disorder.”
Once diagnosed, treatment often consists of nothing more than pill prescribing.
Sometimes responses to ordinary life events can be incorrectly diagnosed as mental disorders. Let’s look at a few examples…
“My husband passed away almost a year ago and I still miss him so much. There are times I feel like there’s not much purpose to my life anymore. We were married for 42 years. It’s tough to fall asleep without him at my side. And it’s tough for me to feel like cooking when I have to eat alone.”
This is a normal bereavement reaction. The proposed new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual code, however, states that these may be signs of a major depressive episode. Why? It’s as though our standard for bereavement is now quick, like everything else in our lives. Nothing to it! A piece of cake! Okay, mourn. But return to your old life in a week, a month, three months. You need more time than that? Well, perhaps you should take anti-depressants. Good for the drug companies. Not good for the bereaved individual.
“I tend to be nervous in some social situations. While my friends are up for any new venture, I become anxious when I don’t know where I’m going or who I’m going with. Last week I was feeling keyed up and irritable when my friends pressured me into meeting them at a bar after work. Though I acquiesced to their pressure, I really just wanted to go home and curl up with a good book.”
Everyone is not a party animal or an extrovert. No one should feel stigmatized for disliking group gatherings. No one should be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder for preferring reading to partying. No one should be prescribed anti-anxiety meds because they feel uncomfortable in a social situation.
Let’s stop pathologizing those who don’t fit into the dominant lifestyle.
“When my neighbor committed suicide, I was the one who found his body. What a horrible experience! The first thing I needed to do was to shield my young children from seeing him. Then I had to notify his parents. Then I had to deal with my own feelings — disbelief that he had killed himself, anger that he did himself in, grief that such a young life was over and regret that I couldn’t have prevented it. It took me about a year to deal with these emotions and move beyond all that was stirred up for me.”
Has life ever thrown you a curveball? How did you react? Not always seamlessly, I suspect. Does that mean you have a mental disorder? Absolutely not. Intense emotional reactions to unforeseen, unanticipated events are normal. It should not be diagnosed as a stress reaction disorder. Over time, most people adjust to traumatic events. Masking important emotions with sedatives is rarely a good idea.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 25 percent of Americans suffer from some sort of mental illness. The vast majority of those are taking psychotropic drugs. That’s a lot of disturbed Americans.
Or is it? Perhaps that high statistic is nothing more than normal emotional reactions being over-diagnosed and over-medicated.
Are there ways to help without harming? Yes! Consider educationally-based psychotherapy. This consists of teaching people how to cope with difficult situations, become more resilient, and manage their emotions — all without diagnoses and medication.