I’ve been haunted by questions ever since I published my first blog entry on compulsive shopping behavior. These are questions which have become all the more pertinent after the whole schizophrenia diagnosis debate. The most troubling one of which is: Should compulsive shopping behavior actually make it into the next DSM as a full-fledged mental disorder of its own?
A mental illness is characterized by having a significant, often debilitating impact on one’s life. I think that compulsive shopping behaviors fit the bill for this characteristic in some instances. For example, if you make the majority of your purchases on credit and typically don’t have the available funds to pay your credit card bill. Obviously, this would have a significant negative impact on your life by causing bad credit and/or stressing relationships with your spouse or other household members. Possibly it may eventually snowball into a situation where one is forced into bankruptcy or in extreme circumstances cause divorce or other household discord. Yes, it definitely could have a negative impact on your life, no argument there.
Second, a mental illness transcends all racial/socio-economic barriers. People in all walks of life are affected by mental illnesses. Everyone from the homeless to very wealthy individuals have the ability to develop a mental illness. This is not to say that some aren’t more susceptible to circumstances which may lead to one developing an illness; it is just to say that a very wealthy person, say Howard Hughs, could develop a mental illness like obsessive compulsive disorder, just as someone in lower socio-economic position could.
Are there any bells and whistles going off yet reader?
The problem with compulsive shopping behavior being dubbed a mental health disorder is that it cannot simultaneously fill both of these requirements. Obviously, the more money that one has, the more he/she will be able to spend before a negative impact is felt. It is possible that one is obsessively spending money on items, but that money is being replenished at a rate which supersedes the amount being spent. A characteristic of compulsive shopping behavior is “living beyond one’s means”, or buying large quantities on credit. In this way, we would never be able to diagnose a very wealthy person with obsessive shopping disorder, since the shopping itself would likely not have a significant negative impact on the person’s life, at least, not to the extent it would have on someone of a lower socio-economic status, because they would be able to pay their bills.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that obsessive shopping can be a huge problem and a debilitating behavior for some people, but until psychiatrists start putting monetary requirements/caps into the criteria for mental health disorders, I don’t think obsessive shopping disorder is going to make it into the DSM. I do believe that compulsive shopping is often times a reaction or coping strategy which is employed by people suffering from a variety of mental health problems and that we need to look deeper into the cause of the behavior to decipher the problem which is causing it. It is possible that new shoes make one feel better, but it is also possible that shopping is one’s coping strategy to deal with depression.