While I believe it is healthy and healing to identify an individual’s mental health issues, primarily to help the person and his or her loved ones manage the illness and live life more fully, I also think society has a tendency to over-diagnose people and arbitrarily slap labels on individuals who may not be suffering from a specific mental illness, but merely trying to cope with life itself. In a recent PsychCentral blog post, Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here, Kelly Babcock ruminates over his life at 50 after he has recently been diagnosed with ADHD.
Well, for fifty years I thought I was normal … okay, I thought I was at least living on the outskirts of normal. But I didn’t think I was so far out there that there was a label for me. Nothing has changed except that I know I have ADHD. If knowledge is power, why do I feel more alienated now than I did before?
For the majority of his life, Babcock didn’t think he had any serious problems – at least nothing serious enough to warrant a diagnosis. Now, at age 50, he was diagnosed with ADHD and suddenly became aware that he does have a problem – a problem with attention deficit and hyperactivity. Now Kelly Babcock feels completely differently about himself. He feels strange, alienated – abnormal. My question is this: What purpose did it serve to diagnose a 50 year old man who was functioning fairly well in society with this disorder? In one of Babcocks recent blog posts, he writes:
I must admit that I didn’t know I had ADHD until I was 50. This happened because I fit in with the world, my world. The distractedness and inability to focus, the wondering what I came into this room or that for, the tantrums, the tree climbing, all of it were exactly what was expected of me because I was that type of person. No one asked the question “What type of person is that, exactly?”
It seems that if a person has a problem, any problem, then there must be something wrong with the person and it needs to be identified. What did parents do with an inattentive, hyperactive child 60, 70, or 80 years ago before doctors identified ADHD as a disorder? What if a teenage boy has parents who are going through a divorce and needs time adjusting to the change? He is often angry, moody or sad and doesn’t talk to anyone. Do we automatically think that he is clinically depressed and in need of an anti-depressant? If a young woman is enjoying her day and decides to spend the afternoon shopping at the mall, followed by a good cry the next evening after learning of her grandmother’s recent passing, is she bipolar?
Should the severity of the symptoms determine whether or not a person is diagnosed with an illness – especially a mental illness? Kelly Babcock was doing ok for most of his life. His life wasn’t ideal due to his undiagnosed ADHD, but whose life is ideal, with or without a mental illness? I think that in some cases, a diagnosis isn’t the best answer, mainly when the symptoms are mild and the person seems to be managing well. Many people don’t like to be labeled, but for others, knowledge of what is going on in their body and mind can be healthy and empowering. There doesn’t seem to be room in our society for the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, or those with any type of disorder. As Kelly Babcock states, “I want to fit in, be normal.” Everyone wants to be normal, but no one knows what “normal” is. Who is normal? Most of the people we consider normal are nothing more then selfish, greedy, businessmen. We don’t need a society filled with selfish, greedy people. When it comes to our mental health, I think all we’re really doing is trying to relieve the symptoms of our suffering with pills, while never really understanding the underlying problems.