How do you feel when you hear the term, Mental Illness?
Are you so far removed from it that it doesn’t affect you and you don’t relate to those who have been clinically diagnosed with a mental illness? Or do you jump into Google and the DSM-5 and diagnose yourself with mental illness? Do you look at the traits and get scared, because you see yourself in the criteria for diagnosis? What if you fall somewhere in the middle, like most of us, somewhere in the gray zone?
What if we all, to some extent, struggle with mental “illness” and mental “challenges?”
When I was in the diagnostic courses in my Graduate and Post-Graduate education, I would think, “Holy crap…I have depression…and I have anxiety…and I’m a little OCD…” Then I was told to not fall prey to “Psychology Student Disorder,” where you will start self-diagnosing, as you see parts of yourself in many of the mental disorders.
We need to look at those with mental challenges as not so different from ourselves. Then we can start to have compassion for them and, in turn, have self-compassion that we are not immune to the inner struggles that arise from our own mental states.
By seeing where we’re connected and not separate, we employ some much-needed humanity into the picture.
So, let me put my money where my mouth is. Let’s looks at a few of the disorders and a little bit of their criteria. See if you can relate to any of the traits used for diagnosis:
– Intellectual Disability:
Deficits in intellectual functioning…abstract thinking, problem solving, etc. Are you strong in one area and weak in another? Aren’t you supposed to be?
Ever had a loss? Ever felt like you didn’t want to get out of bed…had no interest in or pleasure in your daily life? Me too. If you’ve grieved, you’ve experienced depression.
Ever worried about a loved one, an illness, your finances, flying in an airplane, taking a test? If you’ve worried about any of these or your future, you’ve experienced anxiety.
– Body Image Issues:
Do you ever get preoccupied with one or more parts of your body that you struggle with? Pimples? Your hair? Areas you consider fat? Your nose? Do you imagine if your outsides are perfect, you won’t struggle with your insides?
Do you find yourself focused on yourself? Selfies? How about a sense of entitlement? Does that make you a narcissist? Probably not…but that’s some of the criteria in the DSM-5.
It’s easy to think of alcohol and drugs, but did you know about caffeine intoxication (I have it 🙂) and caffeine withdrawal disorders? If there is something or someone you “can’t live without,” you are probably addicted…just saying.
Hate to stand in lines? Me too. It’s listed in one of the traits for agoraphobia, which is severe anxiety and fear that keeps people from leaving their homes.
– Social Anxiety:
Are you afraid or do you have anxiety about social situations where you might be exposed to scrutiny? Talking in public? Meeting a new group of people and wanting to be accepted and liked? Doesn’t that make you human? I think so too.
– Food Disorders:
Do you overeat when you’re sad or stop eating when you’re stressed? Have you ever had a fluctuation in your weight and physical health as a result of your mental stress?
Here’s my point (you’re welcome): Don’t let a Google search or a book (DSM-5) define you. You can diagnose yourself so much that you will start to believe your labels. You can also stigmatize those with severe and moderate mental illness as their problem and not yours.
How about starting to see yourself and others as human with mental challenges? How about connecting with others and seeing their struggle as your struggle as well?
It’s not black and white. There are so many grey areas of mental and emotional health that clinicians often struggle getting consistent diagnosis.
Lastly, please remember, humans created the criteria to diagnose mental illness. I’ll bet those humans also struggle with these same issues…and I’m right.