At first I was a little reserved about writing this post, but I think by sharing my own experiences it may help others who may be struggling with their mental health at the moment. I have recently being reading a book entitled ‘This book will change your mind on mental health‘ by Nathan Filer. The author is a mental health nurse and in this book they discuss some of the greatest assumptions and myths with regards to psychiatry. It’s a great read and it definitely got my brain thinking about the current diagnosis process when it comes to mental illness.
Nathan talks about the labels that individuals are given to explain their current mental wellbeing, for example depression or schizophrenia. When being diagnosed, an individual will be given one or more of these labels, which are obtained by clinicians from books such as ‘The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)’. Now in its fifth edition, this book serves as a manual, providing a resource for the diagnosis and classification of mental disorders. The manual includes concise and specific criteria used to facilitate an objective assessment of symptom presentations. If an individual presents a number of the listed criteria, they are classified and labelled as having the associated mental health condition.
But this method of diagnosis has been criticised, with researchers suggesting that the manual’s rules are inconsistent and subjective, leaving a huge amount of overlap in symptoms between diagnoses. A recent study found that through using the DSM, two people could receive the same diagnosis without sharing any common symptoms in the majority of cases (link to this study can be found here). There is also discussion around the scientific basis for the criteria and just how accurate a diagnosis they can obtain. An interesting and more in depth post outlining all the issues with the current methods of mental illness diagnosis can be found here.
I have tried thinking back to the time where I was labelled with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). It was a few years back now. I remember the feeling of constant worry and panic, not knowing why I felt the way I did or what I could do about it. I felt that what I was thinking wasn’t normal, so I approached a therapist who suggested I talked to my doctor. After completing an online test, the doctor informed me that I had GAD. At the time this label gave me some relief; it made me feel better to know that there was actually something ‘wrong’ with me because then I thought that I could be cured (I was a bit naive back then). But this initial relief only lasted for a short period. After a few weeks, the label I had been given started to wear me down. I stopped seeing myself as a person and allowed the label to become me; I was GAD. I felt that when I talked to people, all they would see was the GAD. These thoughts made me so self-conscious, to the point where I would avoid any situation in which I felt vulnerable; where I thought my GAD would radiate out of my pores like rays of the sun, leading to people judging me solely upon it.
But I have come to realise that I am more than the GAD label I was given. It has taken me a lot of time and a lot of reading and learning to distance myself from GAD. Overall, would I say I’m grateful for the label? Definitely, because it allowed me to get access to the resources I needed to help myself and improve my mental wellbeing. But do I think I have GAD? I’m not so sure. I have times when my anxiety can go into overdrive but I’ve come to realise that anxiety is a totally normal human feeling and personally I don’t class an abundance of it as a disorder. I think it can be dangerous in some cases to quickly label individuals with certain mental conditions based on a 10 question internet survey conducted in a doctors office. Each individual’s mental wellbeing is unique and we each need to be assessed and treated on an individual basis, avoiding labels and being put into different boxes.
I’m really interested to hear your opinions on labels and how you think they effect individuals, whether for better or for worse. I end this post with a quote that I feel is quite fitting:
Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people– Martina Navratilova