When I learned the theme for Blog Action Day 2013, “Human Rights,” I knew I wanted to write about our right to be a little crazy. But before I did that, I had to google “human rights mental health.” The first search result was a link to the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) policy on human rights and mental health. A downloadable fact sheet discusses WHO’s project to implement mental health legislation to protect people with mental disorders.
This is indeed a worthy cause. Mental disorders are real and scary and devastating and people suffering from them need treatment and protection. But it’s not the whole picture of human rights related to mental health. Not even by a long shot. There are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who are being diagnosed with mental “disorders” so that Big Pharma can get even bigger, and rebellious souls can be tamed. They have the right to be avoid labeling and the associated stigma.
I just finished the book “Saving Normal” by Dr. Allen Frances, psychiatrist and chair of the DSM-IV Task Force. The subtitle of the book is “an insider’s revolt against out-of-control psychiatric diagnosis, DSM-5, big pharma, and the medicalization of ordinary life.” The general premise of the book is that there are lots of people (who the author calls “worried well”) receiving diagnosis and treatment through our “mental health” system today that don’t really need it—and may even be harmed by it.
It’s kids who can’t sit still in school (because kids are not meant to be seated all day) and teens who challenge authority (have you heard of the diagnosis “oppositional defiant disorder?”). It’s women and men going through the “middle passage” and the elderly starting to forget where they placed their keys (I mean, who doesn’t from time to time?).
Somehow we have lost the right to be different. To go against the grain. To forget. To be a little crazy.
When I studied psychology in college, I remember thinking, “I have symptoms from all of these disorders! I’m OCD. I’m anxious. I’m …” But I wasn’t ready to go to a psychiatrist for a diagnosis. I recognized that whatever symptoms I had didn’t interfere with living a normal life. We all have our ups and downs. We all have our quirks. Many of us are just “worried well.”
What’s scary is that thanks to smart marketers in the big pharmaceutical companies, well-meaning, but gullible, primary care physicians and psychiatrists, and our I-must-always-be-happy mentality, there has been a rapid increase in labeling and medicating people in this country.
Because of diagnostic inflation, an excessive proportion of people have come to rely on antidepressants, antipsychotics, antianxiety agents, sleeping pills, and pain meds. ~Dr. Allen Frances
I want the right to grieve when a loved one dies and not be labeled with major depression. I want my child to have the right to go through puberty and experience the associated angst without being diagnosed with anxiety or ODD. I want free-spirited kids to have the right to be wild without being prescribed amphetamines.
I’m with Dr. Frances. Let’s save “normal.” We have the right to be free-spirited and sad and worried—and a little crazy! It’s called being human.
P.S. Dr. Frances also emphasizes that those who really need treatment often don’t get it. He writes, “‘Normal’ badly needs saving; sick people desperately require treatment.” He believes that by saving “normal,” we will also save psychiatry. And it’s worth saving.