Are Mental Disorders a Social Construct?
Mental disorders are collection of various symptoms and are similar to social constructs. This may seem like a repulsive idea to read at first but stay with me on this and I promise you, you will have a different outlook on mental disorders.
Cause or Collection?
First, let us think about how we tell someone if they have a mental disorder. We look into the DSM-V and look at the symptoms listed in it under various disorders. The mistake that is often made here is that this list is looked at as the effect of a cause. We think that a disorder, like MDD, causes symptoms like suicidal ideation or self pity but that is not true. Major Depressive Disorder is not the cause of these symptoms; these symptoms ARE major depressive disorder.
Let us take the example of borderline personality disorder. Some people with it say that ‘BPD causes me to think in black and white’ but that is not true. You are not thinking in two absolutes because you have BPD, you have been given ‘the label’ of BPD because you think in extremes.
This often causes a lot of misconceptions among people. Clinical depression doesn’t cause hopelessness, guilt, self hate etc. A person is labeled with clinical depression if they have a set collection of symptoms.
Labels are Fleeting
Every few years, the DSM is revised. Each revision brings with it self new symptoms added or previous ones removed from a disorder. Let us take the example of a girl who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome by DSM-IV. In DSM-V, Asperger’s syndrome was removed completely. Does this mean that she longer suffers from any symptoms of it? Does this mean she was cured?
If we are trying to help someone suffering from a mood disorder, we should focus on fix their symptoms instead of their labels.
Something I need to clarify is that I am not saying that mental disorders don’t have a biological basis. They do have a biological basis and they are very much real but what I am saying is that they are a collection of symptoms instead of being their cause. Our definitions for depression or social anxiety or PTSD will change over time but the problems that led to their diagnosis won’t. I’ll take the example of introversion like the author who I reference this from did.
Some time back it was decided that people who are shy, not out-going and quiet will be called ‘introverts’. Slowly, this adjective became a noun and we started using ‘introversion’ as a trait, even though it used to be a label. Soon, we start saying he didn’t come to the party because of his introversion. This is not true. His introversion didn’t cause him to not come to the party, it was the other way around.
This is a really thought provoking concept and one that makes me question the linguistics of psychiatry.
Would a rose still be a rose if we called it a tulip?
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