Everyone can meet criteria for a mental health disorder and diagnoses. That is the way the system is set up. Do you prefer to find out what you ” have ” or would you prefer to move on from this post, and ignore the idea of you having a ” disorder “? I am doing a free evaluation today for anybody. Let me grab my DSM and we can get on with it. For those not familiar, the DSM is the book that mental health professionals use to figure out what you ” have ” when it comes to mental health disorders and making a formal diagnoses on you. It is not extremely complex, but more like a collection of symptoms people have and a grouping, or as I like to call it- labeling.
The diagnoses are grouped according to what categories fit together in the form of what they call an AXIS. Axis 1, Axis II, Axis III, Axis IV and so on. Each axis represents a specific underlying reason for the diagnoses in that group. For example, Lets say Axis IV is ” psycho-social stressors”. If you go to a mental health clinician for an evaluation, they will do a total assessment first on you covering anything from your medical history, to you and the abuse you suffered as a child. After the initial assessment, the narrowing down begins as to what group (Axis) or groups you fit into, according to the information you gave the clinician as compared with the DSM criteria to fall into a certain category. Once this is determined, it is time to get down to a specific diagnoses or maybe several.
So you have told me that you feel depressed but not all the time, just sometimes, and it really does not interfere with your daily routine. That along with a few minor details is enough for you to score a label! Maybe medicine for depression even. You have dysthymia. From this day forward, you have a mental health history and a label. It’s that simple. So what do you have? OCD? PTSD? ANXIETY? The list is long, and the criteria is not very difficult to meet for anyone who has suffered a period in their life of depression, or watched Dr Phil and think they have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder like the guest. All you need is the correct key words and you are in the club of people with mental health disorders. That brief example and this post is not meant to discount mental health disorders, as they are real and can inflict serious problems with the life of the one suffering. My point is we all can squeeze our way into some diagnoses, especially if you are aware of the criteria. Let me give a quick example, that is a bit shocking but true that I personally was involved in.
Years ago I was involved in the start- up operation of an alternative school for expelled youth, I hired about 45 staff members, and trained them all on many different topics, one being the importance of finding a balance with labels that kids come in with. Just because they have been diagnosed with ” intermittent explosive disorder ” does not mean they cannot learn their way out of that label. To accomplish this objective, I decided to take the criteria straight from the DSM for ” Major Depressive Disorder “, copy it and make it into a worksheet similar to multiple choice. I took the disorder label off so it would appear just as a question and answer handout, and nobody put their name on it, so we did not violate any laws of privacy. I got my people in one of our training rooms one morning, and announced that today we will start with a survey to fill out and proceeded to hand out 45 surveys, and asked them to take their time, fill it out and return to me. They turned them in and I gave them some materials on another subject to read while I went over the information. Now these are teachers, therapists, nurses, and highly educated, along with some other staff that did not have a degree but were proficient in what they did. A mixed pot! After review, and running some numbers I was NOT surprised to see that nearly 65% met full criteria for Major Depressive Disorder! Another 25% met criteria for one of the depressive or anxiety disorders, leaving about 10% not meeting criteria for any depressive disorder. I shared that with the group and jaws dropped. We discussed it all afternoon, and how perspective is everything when dealing with the kids they were about to try to teach. It was one of the most effective trainings I have ever done and one that should only be done in certain circumstances and with someone trained in the DSM and understanding that we cannot diagnose ourselves or others unless qualified. I had worked with a Psychiatrist for years doing assessments so I happened to be prepared for the boundaries needed in the training, and the lines that cannot be crossed. I educated, but did not diagnose anyone.
As I close this post, I will encourage you to get educated before you get labeled. Make sure you need what you are asking for. When my own kids display a certain behavior in their school, if a teacher starts talking about her or his opinion of what may be ” wrong” with them, I am quick to respond with – DONT LABEL MY KID! You should too, until you have done your homework. If you are an adult, same rule applies. Get educated before you take the step to see a mental health worker who may just decide you are BI-POLAR! It is serious enough to do the homework, and again I am not at all discounting mental health issues. I am suggesting that we as a society may have become too quick to accept or assign labels to ourselves or our kids that may not be needed. I am out.