DSM = The Medicalization of Human Nature

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.


6 responses to “DSM = The Medicalization of Human Nature

  1. I have Cognitive Tempo disorder

    I’m a 45yr old male who only recently found out I was ADD. I’ve struggled my whole life with these symptoms and I always knew my brain worked very differently. I always thought ADD was for hyper people and I was quite the opposite. My symptoms became worse in recent years and I did a google search looking for a book and up came all of the ADHD-I info. Suddenly not only did my life start to make sense but family history as well. All people experience these symptoms the difference is I have them all of the time. I recently started on Adderall undoubtedly helps but not as much as I hoped. I’ve never used recreational drugs or even drink Alcohol, regrettably I probably judged people who did very harshly. I now believe the only difference between me and them is my mother who was had my disorder drug & alcohol free example and the severity of my symptoms at the time. Its obvious you dont suffer from this disorder. Your high horse is actually higher than the one I used to ride. I believe had I had knowlege of my disorder I could have made better life choices. For example I would have dealt with my disorganization problem differently instead repeatedly failing at the way normal people accomplish it and feeling like a complete idiot. There is no possible way you could have lived more drug free than I did for most of my life. Please do not judge what you obviously dont understand. Ive been getting back in shape and trying to eat better but plan to keep taking Adderall as long as it helps.

  2. I agree 90% with what you are saying. I believe that the real answer to all psychological problems is attacking them at the root. While much of the time, the root is psychological and can be solved with some sort of change in one’s lifestyle, some of the time, the root is actually an chemical imbalance in the brain, therefore the answer is consuming medicine to balance them out.

  3. It’s definitely a fine line between groundbreaking medical research and the promotion of a new drug from a pharmaceutical company. I am a self-proclaimed hypochondriac and anything the media tells me I self-diagnosis that condition for me. Our obsession with health and medicine is in many ways perpetuated by the society’s numerous powerhouse institutions: the media, hospitals, the government. Not really a critique but simply an observation.

  4. You certainly hit the nail on the head. Like you said, obviously there are a number of mental disorders that are true disorders that people should seek medical help for. However, in recent years this new phenomena of new mental “conditions” being documented and classified as such is a mere product of the improvement of and science/technology and scientists’/doctor’s ability to understand how the brain works.

    Decades ago, nobody knew what autism was, and now over 300,000 children have been diagnosed with it. Soon people that we simply consider to have “weird” or odd personalities will be diagnosed with a mental condition and given appropriate treatment.

    It is only a matter of time before we are all diagnosed with some sort of condition. And like you said, it all has to do with the idea of what is “normal.” What is normal to you is completely different than what is normal to me.

  5. Excellent article. Soon I fear the DSM will determine having a personality trait of any kind as some psychiatric condition. Something that you allude to in your piece is the fact that the differences in our society’s personalities and characteristics is what makes us a flourishing community. There would be little room for growth, progress, or exploration if every human functioned identically. So why should we push so hard for so called “normalcy”?

    I find it especially concerning that the DSM creates “disorders” and then tries to force the rest of society to buy into various pharmaceutical or psychiatric aids to solve their problems. We should not be drugging up our entire society for issues that can be handled on a personal level once people take ownership for their actions. Yes, there are some disorders that are truly debilitating and require medical assistance in order for that person to survive within society. But I’m sorry, who doesn’t experience relational disorder at some point within our lives. Every time there is a conflict it does not mean that there is something wrong with us. It means we are interacting with other human beings.

  6. Your supercilious patronizing makes it nearly impossible to give you credit for the very real risks you call attention to with the horrible and currently growing phenomenon in America of over-diagnosis. What in Steven B. Sample’s name game YOU the right to judge something that you yourself admit that you CANNOT KNOW ABOUT?

    Let me enlighten your myopic and prejudiced point of view, because everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt and I was fortunate enough to be given that with my EDUCATION.

    To begin, I’d like to comment on your condescending and insulting internalization of the life of someone with ADHD:

    “To the ADHD individual, his behavior is very normal.” WRONG…

    “The way he thinks, behaves, and interacts with society is his only reality.” WRONG…

    “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.” WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? You just blatantly insulted every individual with learning disabilities and mocked their problems as unique character traits!

    Do you have ANY idea what it feels like to be treated like you’re stupid, and to BELIEVE it? (Don’t worry, it’s rhetorical). I understand perfectly the problems of over-medication; I’m probably your poster child for it. And TRUST me, I understand the pitfalls of these medications. But your parachute malfunctions when you assert that it is a CHOICE to take these medications, sending you hurtling down for a VERY hard wake up call; only someone who has NO idea what it means to actually NEED one of these medications could be so naïve. Just because YOU don’t know what it means to need them doesn’t give you the right to pass judgment on those who do. And I’m not even going to expand on the fact that YOU are the only person who has ever called me “sick.”

    It is exactly this kind of prejudice that disadvantages those of us who DO have
    Again, you pass judgment to say that our “personality traits” are mislabeled as “disabilities.” What medical degree do you have to qualify you to decide which came first, the chicken or the egg? This seems to be your holistic flaw: you do not have the medical expertise or the wisdom and understanding from your own experience to see the benefits of these drugs when they AREN’T abused. And for the record, abuse is solely the responsibility of the patient, unless they are physically incapable of taking care of themselves and have a caretaker,

    You are blatantly wrong to say that these drugs do “not address the root of the problems.” You simply don’t understand the difference between symptoms and problems: the symptoms ARE the problems! You continue by belittling those who have psychiatric disabilities with demeaning and debasing morals: “don’t change yourself…. change the external factors that are disrupting your life.” Once again, you are blind to the fact that these ‘disruptive external factors’ are the SYMPTOMS of these disorders! And how dare you tell people that their problems aren’t worth medication; that is simply NOT your decision to make! It is up to the patient and physician.

    And lastly, I’d like to say that if you continue to preach this way, suggesting a morning jog and career change to replace the drugs that people may NEED, it will be on YOUR conscience when those people don’t get the help they need from your joke of a program and potentially hurt themselves or someone else. My mother has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder in the past decade; if you want to be responsible for the person she was and can be again without those medications that you so strongly renounce, then you don’t deserve to have a mother. Maybe then you will know SOME of the pain and anguish you will cause the individuals and families of those who need medication but who choose not to take it because someone like YOU told them it was taking the easy way out.

    Until you know what it feels like to have a mental disability, you would do better to keep you elitist prejudice to yourself. Obviously there is a problem with hypochondria; BUT IT’S THE HYPOCHONDRIACS (see above comment by “cagutos”) THAT MUST BE KEPT IN CHECK, NOT THOSE WITH REAL PROBLEMS!

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