Do you disagree with authority? Well, congratulations! You’ve qualified as a victim of Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and are now eligible to receive specialized treatments. This, along with many other questionable “disorders,” are included in the 2010 Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is attempting to medicalize human nature by classifying normal personality traits as specific disorders.
Every few years the American Psychiatric Association (APA) revises its Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This manual provides a common language and criteria for the classification of mental disorders. The legitimacy of the DSM, first published in 1952, has been frequently questioned by the medical community and the public alike, but 2010’s edition has attracted the most criticism. The most talked about new disorders include Cognitive Tempo Disorder and Intermittent Explosive Disorder, which are just fancy ways of saying indolence and adult temper tantrums.
Of course, there are individuals who seriously suffer form mental disorders and benefit greatly from treatment. However, the problem with the DSM is that it takes relatively normal behaviors and classifies them as disorders. In addition to the above mentioned, the 2010 DSM also includes Mary Whitehouse Syndrom (the thrill of being appalled by pornography), hypersexuality (the desire for multiple partners), and relational disorder (where two people struggle to get along).
But let’s go back and focus for just a minute on Cognitive Tempo Disorder. Prior to its induction into the DSM, what is now Cognitive Tempo Disorder was an informal subgroup of ADHD referred to as Sluggish Cognitive Tempo. It refers to ADHD individuals who display symptoms opposite that of classic ADHD. Those with a sluggish cognitive tempo are passive, day-dreamy, and shy. They display hypo-active behavior, both physically and mentally. In the 2010 DSM, sluggish cognitive tempo has been promoted to an official disorder, free standing from ADHD.
The issue I am having is not in the legitimacy of sluggish cognitive behaviors, because obviously there are individuals who display all of these behaviors. My issue is with its classification as a disorder. Where is the line between normal human behaviors and disorders? Some people are introverted, some are extroverted, some get angry easily, some are more disciplined than others (binge eating is now an official disorder as well). What makes life so rich and exciting is the fact that there are so many unique personalities. When did personality divergences become unnatural? When did differences become disorders? And this brings up another question: if differences are disorders, what is normal?
To the ADHD individual, his behavior is very normal. The way he thinks, behaves, and interacts with society is his only reality. That is, until you take this individual, brand him as learning disabled, and convince him (or his parents) that he needs to be fixed to become normal. By taking this individual and branding him as sick, you are segregating him from the rest of society. His unique characteristics went from personality traits to a treatable disorder. How many personalities are lost as we try to conform everyone to this standard of normal? In creating a nation of “normal” people, we may be creating a more productive society, but we won’t necessarily have a happier society.
In viewing the lists of psychological disorders, it becomes evident that this “normal” is essentially whatever allows one to function successfully in society. True, there are certain behaviors that make this more difficult for an individual. But labeling behaviors as disorders is extremely detrimental to the individual, and resultantly, to society at large.
Far from helping people to deal with their problems, the realm of psychiatry worsens these issues by shifting responsibility to an unavoidable disorder. Every person has challenges in life. Learning to overcome these challenges creates a stronger individual. If these challenges are reduced to a psychological diagnosis, the individual is never forced to take personal responsibility for his or her problems. He or she never actually learns how to deal with his or her issues. It is much easier to take pill for anxiety than to learn how to mange your life in a way to reduce it. But this is not a solution and does not address the root of the problems. Psychiatry fixes the symptoms, it does not fix the problem.
So don’t change your self; value your self, and change the external factors that are disrupting your life.
Instead of taking Ritalin, develop your creative potential.
Throw out the Xanax, and find a less stressful occupation.
Replace your morning Zoloft with a morning jog (exercise has been proven to be more effective in relieving depression than anti-depressants).
Because the truth is that there is no standard definition of normal human behavior. Differences are not disorders. Granted, these differences can pose personal or social challenges for the individual, but learning to overcome these challenges may be one of the most empowering feats this person will undergo. I would advise you to take the APA, and the whole realm of psychiatry for that matter, with a grain of salt. If we were to evaluate the mental health of this nation based on the DSM, it is likely that every person would be drugged in an attempt to create a “normal” person. And this medicalization of human nature would only serve to disempower individuals.