The Demise of Problems in Living: The Rise of Mental Disorders


DSM books

Diagnosing someone with a mental disorder such as anxiety or depression requires ensuring the person meets a certain number of criteria of a particular disorder. The disorders and their criteria are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-4th edition, text revised (the DSM-IV-TR). There is growing concern that more and more disorders are being “discovered” and are shrinking what is considered normal.

The sickening of our society

The first DSM manual was published in 1952, was 132 pages and listed 128 disorders. The current DSM-IV-TR is 886 pages and lists 357 disorders. Are we getting sicker or are normal problems in living becoming pathologized? When did shyness become a sickness? Isn’t it normal that we grieve when someone we love dies? Do we have to get over it by a prescribed period of time to prevent being labelled with major depressive disorder? When did eccentricity become a problem requiring medication?

What’s considered normal is shrinking

A vocal critic of the new draft of the DSM is Dr. Allen Frances. He was chairman of the taskforce for the current edition of the DSM and participated in the previous two versions. His concerns include “the shrinking domain of the normal” and the possibility that innocent bystanders could become pathologized, labeled as having a mental disorder and given unnecessary drugs and other treatments.

Unfortunately, increasing numbers of people are being diagnosed with a mental disorder. In 1955, 1 out of 468 Americans were hosptalized because of a mental illness. By 1987, 1 out of 184 were disabled enough to require long term disability.(Source: Anatomy of an Epidemic)

Children are being diagnosed and medicated at alarming rates. The number of mentally ill children in the U.S. grew exponentially between 1996 and 2007 while the number of kids with cancer and other life threatening illnesses declined. Are we all going crazy or is something else happening? (Source: Anatomy of an Epidemic)

What’s the problem?

All of us experience troubles in living at various times in our lives. But it seems that life’s troubles are being usurped by well intentioned professionals and transformed into diagnosable disorders.

Obviously, there are times when a diagnosis is warranted and even helpful. But sometimes problems can occur when drugs are considered the only solution and a quest is begun to find the right drug that’s going to work. Unfortunately, drugs have side affects, are more or less effective for an individual, and seem to lose their effectiveness after a period of time. Some may end up with a cocktail of drugs of increasing potency that contribute to decreased functioning in everyday life.

As a psychologist, I’ve unfortunately worked with people who have been encouraged to believe their “disorder” is life long and medication is the only treatment that is going to be effective in “managing and controlling symptoms.” What does this do to the person’s sense of personal control and responsibility? At what point does the diagnosis become the person and take over a person’s life completely?

As a solution-focused therapist, I can work with you to help you move past troubles, to discover what works for you, and to help you live the life you want. I provide counselling in person, online, or by phone.


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