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Defining Mental Illness in the 21st Century

By: Dr. Chris Stankovich | @DrStankovich | Feb 18, 2013

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If you hear voices and experience hallucinations, is that mental illness? What about if you tend
to get really nervous in unfamiliar situations, is that mental illness? What about if your 15 year
old child doesnt always pay attention in math class and has a tendency to disrupt the class
because he goofs around is he mentally ill? In fact, all of these are examples of mental illness
criteria used by psychologists and psychiatrists the first example could have been
schizophrenia, the second an anxiety disorder, and the third ADHD.

While most people would agree that if you are hearing voices and seeing things you likely have a
mental illness, does it feel strange lumping in the other two examples (general anxiety and a
student disinterested in math) in the same, general, vague, and stereotypical category of mental
illness? These days, its really tough to see the line of demarcation between normal versus
mental illness, and its going to get a lot tougher in the months ahead when the new DSM5 is
released this spring.

Are we becoming victims of..everything?

When the new DSM5 arrives with its even more broad-based interpretations and criteria for
mental illness (including the new disorders that will be listed), we have to ask if we are really
using science and research findings and applications from studying psychological human
behavior in positive, healthy ways or merely creating a society of people that have been
conveniently afforded all kinds of mental illness labels to use for comfort rather than actually
having to develop mental toughness, resiliency, and stress coping responses to help deal with
lifes difficulties? If your legs move a lot, that could be Restless Leg Syndrome. If you feel you
dont have quite the testosterone you used to in your earlier days, by golly you might have Low
T. And God forbid if your kid becomes bored in a class he doesnt like and shoots
spitballswhich brings me to the incredibly broad, all-encompassing mental disorder of
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Below is the criteria for ADHD which is rumored to become even more liberal in the new
DSM5 coming soon:

> Six (or more) of the following symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have persisted for at least
6 months to a degree that is maladaptive and inconsistent with developmental level:

(a) often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat

(b) often leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected
(c) often runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is inappropriate (in
adolescents or adults, may be limited to subjective feelings of restlessness)
(d) often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly
(e) is often on the go or often acts as if driven by a motor
(f) often talks excessively

If you think that sounds like a lot of kids, youre right!! In fact, some of you reading this might
even wonder if its the kids who dont do any of these things we need to be worried about! Im
kidding, but only partially, as often creativity and spontaneity happen and good things often
come from it like new and better ideas. Unfortunately, these same symptoms reported to the
wrong mental health worker will likely get your kid quickly placed on a medication (or two)
as we all know its much better and socially acceptable for kids to sit like zombies in class
devoid of any real emotions.

Honestly, I dont know what mental illness is any more and the blurring of whats normal
versus pathological is only getting worse. Sadly, many of these mental illnesses (by label)
actually do two destructive things:

a) prevent/curtail behaviors that might actually be OK, or even welcomed, depending on the
situation/circumstance. For example, if your child is creative and wants to become a writer one
day, would it be so bad that he acts as though he is driven by a motor?

b) get you (or your child) quickly placed on a dangerous medication with various side-,
withdrawal-, and/or interaction-effects

Brace yourself for the new DSM5 coming soon by casting a bigger, wider net for mental
illness we will only see more mentally ill people who only a few years ago would have been
seen as normal, ironically. Furthermore, with all these new mentally ill people you will also
likely see a spike in psychotropic medications rather than counseling as the primary way to treat
these issues. Yes, this is mental illness in the 21st century.