THE BAD AND GOOD NEWS: THE POWER OF NAMING
Current heated arguments about background checks as part of gun control have added to the already muddied thinking about those labeled “the mentally ill.” My concern here is not about gun control. It’s about the prevalence of stigmatizing language. When speaking of “the mentally ill,” pundits and others fall into what is, at best, careless language, at worst mean spirited attacks. Some try to soften their language by adding “dangerously” as a modifier.” Others qualify their stereotypes by referring to people “deemed” dangerously mentally ill, that is, those given an official psychiatric label. This unholy marriage of popular misconception and professional power may have dire consequences for those who are stigmatized that way.
The power of the “mental illness” industry, specifically the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) joins with the insurance industry, which makes it impossible for most people to find affordable psychotherapy. Paula Caplan’s voice (http://www.paulajcaplan.net/) is one of the few raised against the DSM system. Her 1995 book, They Say You’re Crazy: How the World’s Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who’s Normal,” is still the most valuable guide to all that’s wrong with the DSM. From inside the system Caplan describes it’s many deficiencies, providing examples of its unscientific processes and biased judgments, especially damaging to women.
SO WHAT’S THE GOOD NEWS? As the DSM goes into its fifth edition, it is finally confronted with a challenge from another power house. The NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), a major funder of research on mental health has announced that it will be “re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.” NIHM director Thomas Insel says the organization will “begin to develop a better system,” which for patients, means “(W)e are committed to new and better treatments…by developing a more precise diagnostic system.”
The easiest way to learn more about this change is to Google Insel NIMH TED. Insel says the research now needs to be pretty much all about the brain. To which I say hurrah! True, that change in who will qualify for NIMH research funding may result in new problems. But for now we can be grateful that the lock on who gets to categorize people is bent if not broken. The door is open to new thinking.
Thanks to Carolyn Hale, I’ve just been introduced to: the website for Circle of Friends for Mental Health: www.cofmentalhealth.org The site provides valuable ideas about how to stop stigmatizing and stereotyping people labeled “Mentally Ill”.