Labeling us disorderly

As winter slowly exposes itself again with naked trees and shortened days, we prepare to deal with the consequences of Seasonal Affective Disorder âÄî (aptly shortened to SAD) âÄî otherwise known as the blues from too many cloudy days. The latter description doesnâÄôt sound quite as scientific but it serves just as well to describe the gloominess that lingers in the winter months. The former is a psychiatric term that aims to categorize winterâÄôs gloom as a seasonally induced mental illness. The ways to define a touch of wintry-weather melancholy seem to be pretty broad. The personal effects of the two descriptions above are probably the same, but the consequences are drastically different. With one, the natural woes of winter are a consequent of dreary weather and not really a cause for concern. With the other comes the admittance of mental illness and the subsequent need of some type of âÄúcure,âÄù most likely a psychiatric drug of some kind. This suggests that a great degree of caution should be applied when categorizing symptoms of the human condition. Sadly, the world of psychiatry doesnâÄôt seem to employ such caution. On the contrary, the field of psychiatry wishes to ascribe diagnosis to cover an ever-widening portion of normal, even if painful, human behavior. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, developed by the American Psychiatric Association, is an anthology of all things mentally unwell, describing which symptoms classify which mental illness. This is the equivalent of a psychiatric bible and is used in all diagnoses. The first DSM, published in 1952, covered some 150 diagnoses. DSM-IV, which came out in the 1990s, had more than 350. The next version, due in 2012, will introduce even more. The scope of mental illness will continue to expand, but wellness certainly will not increase with its expansion. Which begs the question: What good do these labels really do us? The DSM, which once included homosexuality as a form of mental illness, has a disorder for most any state of mind or condition. Whatever you happen to be (or may easily be made to seem to be) is a disorder. There are even disorders that apply to a person who disagrees with the validity of psychiatric diagnoses. In other words, if you think the DSM is bunk, you are, per the DSM, mentally ill. With this spurious guide, psychiatry decides who amongst us is mentally ill. With the sheer vastness of symptoms described in the DSM, this includes just about anyone. A recent study about the mental state of Americans, taking just eight of the most common âÄúmental disordersâÄù psychiatrists label us with, found that more than 78 percent of the population is mentally ill, thus requiring powerful and dangerous psychiatric drugs to âÄúcureâÄù them. What was once considered being perhaps eccentric or a bit unconventional is now a full-blown illness. A touch of eccentricity now can be categorized as a number of mental disorders, with âÄúscientificâÄù backing to boot. Under the guise of scientific validity, people tend to accept psychiatric diagnosis as objective, certifiable truth. What is so dangerous about the acceptance of psychiatric analysis is that, unlike a medical diagnosis, it is not grounded in science. There is no scientific evidence that any of the millions of people labeled with âÄúmental disordersâÄù have any physical abnormality that justifies the diagnosis. They simply wrap their rationale in scientific-sounding jargon such as the commonly used âÄúchemical imbalanceâÄù that supposedly defines depressive states. In reality, there is no quantifiable test to measure the chemicals in oneâÄôs brain, thus no way to actually recognize an imbalance. Psychiatry cannot identify mental disorders via biology or genetics; instead they rely on individual behavior observations and categorical symptom analysis to declare illness. The labels psychiatry applies are questionable at best. If psychiatry cannot definitively define illness, itâÄôs not likely that they can accurately prescribe treatment for these illnesses. Still, antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs are widely prescribed and regarded as a legitimate means to treat mental sickness. According to IMS health, a market research firm, doctors last year wrote 232.7 million prescriptions for antidepressants, more than any other therapeutic class of medicine. The price tag for these prescriptions was at least $12 billion. Somehow a market that was formerly non-existent now constitutes a multi-billion dollar industry. And are we any more mentally well than before we spent these billions? Doubtful. A recent study published in the Public Library of Science repudiates the effectiveness of the most common antidepressants. The study revealed that there was virtually no difference in the improvement scores for commonly prescribed drugs and placebos in patients with moderate depression and only a small and clinically insignificant difference among patients with very severe depression. Capricious labels do well in leading us to ineffective drugs, but do not serve any other meaningful purpose; and they certainly do not contribute to better health. Labeling the highs and lows of human nature serves the psychiatric field, but not humanity. Daylight savings is upon us, and as more darkness captures each day, dreariness is likely to swell. So as we all prepare to deal with the winter blues this year, be careful about who and what defines your SAD-ness. Ross Anderson welcomes comments at [email protected]