By Helen Jones
Why are so many people, including children, being classified as mentally ill? Three reasons are offered up to explain the steep rise in the numbers of people of all ages who are being treated for a mental disorder.
- Life today, we are told, is more stressful.
- Psychiatrists are said to have become better at diagnosing disorders.
- The bar for measuring a disorder has been lowered, allowing many more people, including children to be classified as ill and requiring treatment.
Is life today more stressful? In fact, the opposite seems to be the case. True, life does have its stressors but compared to previous generations, are we in fact any worse off? Life can be difficult, but we also have much better ways of dealing with these conflicts and natural disasters etc. which are a part of life. We are currently living through a global pandemic. At any other time in history, similar events have resulted in the destruction of settlements and populations decimated. Natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes continue to happen, but with modern technology, much can be done to reduce the effects of these disasters.
The increased efficiency of psychiatrists with better diagnostic tools has been suggested as a cause for greater numbers of people being diagnosed with a mental disorder. In fact, there has been little or no advancement in the study of mental disorders and the tools and technology available are no more reliable than they were when psychiatry was in its infancy. This is substantiated by the low rates of reliable diagnoses.
What then is causing this extraordinary jump in the numbers of both adults and children diagnosed as suffering from a mental disease? If not a more stressful world or better diagnostic tools, could it be the lowering of the bar for a diagnosis? What is the bar for mental illness? At what point do we stop being sad and become mentally ill? What is mental illness? Is it easier now to be mentally ill than it has ever been in our history?
For parents it is not just an academic exercise. For parents of disruptive children, it is a situation with which they live, and they are susceptible to seemingly sensible explanations and moreover explanations which seem to provide a solution. Pills and hospitalization are a relief for parents dealing with seriously disruptive children. If they did work, isn’t it reasonable to expect that there would be very few mentally ill people? In fact, isn’t it reasonable to expect that if the belief in mental illness had any basis in fact, that with all the diagnoses and treatments applied, there would be a marked reduction in these disorders, just as there is in physiological illnesses?
Is it possible that disruptive behaviour is not a disorder? Could it be the outward expression of sadness, fear, confusion and hopelessness? Let us hope this is the case because if it is, the treatment is in our own hands and parents can play an essential role in helping their offspring, a role which does not require specialized knowledge but only the desire and willingness to change how we relate to our children and their behaviour in everyday life. The smallest change in our behaviour can bring about great and lasting change in others.
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