Some latest additions to the list of mental health disorders include shyness in children, depression after bereavement and Internet addiction – all controversial topics now fuelling a debate over how modern society should treat mental health ‘problems’.
Some experts believe the manual, published by the American Psychiatric Association, can lead to the unnecessary diagnosis of millions of people.
As writer Jon Ronson half-joked in a recent TED talk, “Is it possible that the psychiatric profession has a strong desire to label things that are essential human behaviour as a disorder?”
This begs the question – just where is the line between ‘essential human behaviour’ and psychiatric disorder? And what effect does mental health diagnosis have on those patients?
One professional body, the Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP), is calling for the abandonment of psychiatric diagnosis altogether. They have released a report claiming that psychiatric diagnosis is at best a clinical judgement, or observation – not, as many believe, a statement of fact. The report claims that diagnoses such as bipolar disorder, personality disorder and schizophrenia are of ‘limited reliability and questionable validity’.
Mary Boyle, professor at the University of East London, believes this claim marks a changing attitude to mental health and a dramatic shift in the on-going debate.
Dr Lucy Johnstone of the DCP helped draw out the body’s recent statement. She says diagnoses are not only unscientific, but unhelpful too. Mental health treatment should shift its focus from the assumed biological causes of some disorders, towards the personal and social aspects of psychological distress.
Often when a person is labelled with a disorder, they start to define themselves in term of the symptoms, causes and treatments outlined by health experts. From here they start to see themselves as a patient afflicted with a disease, rather than an individual going through a unique experience. The DCP suggests a change in mental health vocabulary to help change people’s attitudes. For example, instead of asking ‘what is wrong with you?’ mental health professionals should ask ‘what happened to you?’
It is thought changes like these will help change people’s attitudes towards mental health, but they are not intended to directly influence the diagnosis of mental illness through the NHS.
Counselling focuses on the social and personal aspects of mental health treatment. To find out more about how a counsellor can help you, please visit our Types of Distress page.
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