Sunday, January 10, 2010

You're a loony!

If some of the psychiatrists attempting to shape the next edition of the DSM have their way, I doubt there will be many of us left on the planet who are not mentally ill. A lot of this smells of a profession grasping at straws to justify its existence. After all there is a lot of money at stake, and expanding the definition of mental illness, as well as expanding the number of potential mental "illnesses" could expand the potential client base considerably. Have a thing for short people or play too many video games? Pop a few Prozacs, go into rehab, or spend a stint at a psychiatric facility.

Don't get me wrong. There is a legitimate role for psychiatrists and psychiatry, and I can see a rational for having a system in place to diagnose truly pathological conditions. That said, just like I found the DSM-IV a bit overboard, I find myself asking with the proposed new "illnesses" of which I am aware, "are you kidding?"

An inevitable problem exists in determining what constitutes "normal" cognition and behavior. Truth is, normality, such as it is, gets defined by whatever prevailing cultural standards are in place at the time. In other words, what is "normal" is often merely an artifact of a specific historical and cultural context that does nothing to address the actual mental states of those labeled "abnormal". Personally, I'd prefer erring on the side of caution before attaching labels, realizing that the science of psychiatry, such as it is, itself is in its infancy. What gets pronounced on high by the American Psychiatric Association is more of a political statement. In the meantime, I find myself siding with Thomas Szaz (I have my own issues with some of his positions, but that can be dealt with at another time perhaps) that much of what gets labeled as illness or pathology amounts at best to problems in living. Some of those problems may indeed rest within the individual, whereas others come from dealing with dealing with social ignorance and prejudices. But such a conclusion probably is further evidence that I'm a stark raving lunatic.

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