Monday, August 2, 2010

Shyness, sadness, gambling, sex offenses--are they mental illnesses?

There's a man who has written a book about shyness and contends it's a normal human trait, not a mental illness

There's another book out about sadness, feelings the author says have been associated throughout history as a normal reaction to loss—not the finding of modernists who want it labeled a mental illness.

How about binge eating...temper tantrums...gambling—are they mental disorders?

And then we have hoarding, compulsive shopping, alienation from parents, sex offenses. Where did these all come from?

It's really baffling to onlookers and to those with some of the kinds of odd habits like these afflicting humans. People don't get treatment who may need it. Does the medical profession have it all down straight?

They think they do—at least the American Psychiatric Association does. Shyness, sadness and a few other common traits and habits are said to be getting a working over in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (the DSM-V, not issued yet), and it's stirring the juices.

It's important for the people developing the DSM-V to get it right because the document is used by the mental health establishment when treating patients and helps insurance companies decide what disorders to cover. It serves as well as for clinicians, courts, prisons, drug companies and agencies that regulate drugs.

And you would think someone with these conditions wants to know if he or she is normal or less so. The book by Christopher Lane, called “Shyness,” exposes efforts of the big drug companies to have shy people view themselves as mentally ill. He shows how drug company ads have manipulated this to turn ordinary shyness into social anxiety disorder., something of a national emergency.

And another book, “The Loss of Sadness,” by Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield, finds that sadness is often wrongly judged as depression, a diagnosis that has now become epidemic around the world. “Those judgments fail to distinguish between major depression, devastating to its sufferers, and lesser episodes of sadness,” they argue. “Episodic sadness has always been a socially approved means of adjusting to misfortune and much is lost when it is misread as a depressive disorder.”

What's in a diagnosis anyway? Is it something that hits you once or twice or does it have to happen often enough to lay you flat—change your personality or mood or outlook on life? Feeling blue now and then is not the same as depression. The new DSM-V is said to have nine symptoms that go along with that and weighs them as to seriousness, but even this is criticized as not faithful to reality.

There must be pressure from drug companies to add fringe diagnoses into the big book and from insurers to keep them out. The draft document is reported to leave out obesity as a formal diagnosis, as some have proposed. Obesity, you can argue, is metabolic. And it appears to be definitely a medical problem. But no-go in the big book.

They once called cigarette smoking a mental disorder. I suppose much the way marijuana smoking is thought of as an addiction. So--What's addictive behavior and what's a mental disorder?

Not long ago the NAMI NYS board of directors was confronted with the issue of the state putting sex offenders in with mental patients in some of the state hospitals (which they still do). The members wanted to object to this but weren't sure if sex offenders basically had an addiction problem or a severe personality distortion (or both). Some thought these offenders should be put in drug treatment facilities, not the hospitals, but this didn't happen. It's still not clear about sex offenders.

Internet addiction doesn't sound like a medical problem but it could be like other compulsive habits like gambling and binge eating or anorexia. These and other obsessive-compulsive habits are given sway in the DSM. Then there are “night people” who compulsively stay up at night and can't go to sleep and who don't seem to qualify as mentally unsound. Their brains would seem to not be working just right either.

Now sex addiction gets us into some serious business, even if it's not criminal behavior. There are a variety of these disorders already listed in the big book but until they go off the end of the scale, there doesn't seem to be much the docs do about them. People with these disorders deserve help and counseling. Some are sex offenders and some are child molesters who get hounded by fellow citizens, driven from neighborhoods and live with the scarlet letter of shame on them for much of their lives.

On this topic there's a common habit called masturbation, that upsets people when they think it might be mental illness. Here's an illustration: This guy comes up to me and says he has a mental illness he can't get rid of. “What mental illness is that?” I asked. And the talk came around to the fact he masturbates a lot. “What makes you think that's mental illness?” I asked. “I know it is because I can't get it out of my mind; it's a habit and it keeps coming back every day over and over. I'm not normal and this is mental illness. Do you know anybody who can treat it?” he responded

“Yeah,” I said, “it's not mental illness. It's just nature. You're like everybody else. You have a habit you can't get rid of, so what? The difference is that we're all weak and lead imperfect lives and will fall short in some things and feel we might have something wrong.

“You want to talk about an illness—think of schizophrenia. It hits you like a bomb—you'll know when it hits you. And you don't get a little schizophrenia—it's like pregnancy. You either got it, or you don't." (Roy Neville)

1 comment:

  1. Being attracted to children, people without secondary sexual characteristics I would call a mental illness. By nature there's no reason for it. Eating disorders like compulsive eating, bulemia and anorexia are also most certainly mental disorders.

    As for garden variety shyness I agree that it is not a disorder unless it actually becomes social anxiety and a person is unable to function in a normal way. And gambling, excessive mastrubating, serial cheating, etc. are what I would deem bad habits. But its also possible that these habits go along with certain mental disorders.