According to the DSM-5, a universally used classification of mental disorders, one in seven people suffer from a lifelong mental disorder. On top of that, in any one year, a further 25% of the population suffer from temporary mental disorders that can be cured, and none of these statistics include things like HSP (highly sensitive person), which alone affects a further estimated 20% of the population. Adding up every mental illness people ascribe to themselves, there is no doubt we’d end up well above 100%, and these numbers appear to be increasing every year. But are the younger generations truly more susceptible to mental illness, or do we just think we are?
The sentence “it’s just in your head” is a loaded one, and one that has caused a lot of pain to people suffering from mental illness. It suggests that an individual’s suffering isn’t real and that they can just think it away, something that isn’t very encouraging when you’re suffering from something like depression. After all, and this is important, mental illness does exist. Depression is absolutely real, something only very few educated people would deny.
But what such an illness entails is changing. The words “I am depressed” are thrown about everywhere, and that’s not just something “society” does: according to the DSM, depression can be diagnosed after just 2 weeks. That means that within 2 weeks of feeling rather more unhappy than usual, a psychiatrist can diagnose and treat you for depression. The same goes for things like PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), which now no longer requires a traumatic event, but which can also be triggered by hearing about a traumatic event.
Worse are the hundreds of disorders and illnesses that people are diagnosed with on a daily basis, which cause them to do things that go beyond the law. The condition “intermittent explosive disorder”, for instance, is one that approximately 2,5% of the population suffer from in any given year, and it is characterised by recurrent aggressive outbursts involving damage of property and/or psychical assault against animals or individuals. Even aggressiveness is now a mental illness, apparently.
What this implies is that the blame is not on the individual, a conclusion that coincides with a more philosophical post I wrote a while ago, but one that can be very harmful when actually applied in practice. The reason for this is simple: people forget how strong our mind is. We forget how easy it is to convince ourselves of suffering from a certain illness, which in turn makes us actually suffer from it. Comments like “I just have high sensitivity to heat” or, in fact, almost any sensitivity, become true purely through our own reasoning, because once you successfully convince yourself that you’re sensitive to something (or, for that matter, insensitive), it will turn out to be so.
A fundamental need in Western population is a desire to stand out, to be different, to be an individual. Discussions about “who has it worse” are common, and all of us encounter them all the time, probably on a daily basis. Everyone has sensitivities or resistances to everything and everyone has really bad hay fever or no problems at all, just as long as we can say something that would separate us from the crowd. Because nobody cares if you have average sensitivity, or if you have a slight allergic reaction due to hay fever. Extremes and exceptions are what matter.
Psychiatrists gladly support us in these goals. To quote a prominent writer on the topic, Theodore Dalrymple, this “is motivated, one suspects, by the hope of an endless supply of patients. For those with psychiatric disorders need psychiatrists.” Or, to quote another text of his, it is motivated by “the legions of helpers and carers, social workers and therapists, whose incomes and careers depend crucially on the supposed incapacity of large numbers of people to fend for themselves or behave reasonably.” And then he hasn’t even mentioned the many researchers at universities who make their living by identifying new illnesses for these psychiatrists to diagnose.
All of this is extremely damaging to Western society, for two fundamental reasons. First, because it undermines the real illnesses, the real depression and traumatic disorders, which can have terrible consequences for the people suffering from it. Depression, after all, is the temporary inability to “pull yourself out of it”. Second, and probably most importantly, this situation causes illnesses. Many of these mental illnesses are things you talk yourself into, but they are much harder to talk yourself out of. It is no surprise that mental illnesses are on the rise, and that they are particularly prominent in Western countries, where individualism and the desire to be different is manifested most strongly.
This, obviously, needs to change. We need to become aware of the power of our own mind, of how we are able to talk ourselves into phobias, but at the same time, how in many situations we’re also able to talk ourselves out of them. The only problem is that psychiatry has become such a mess that it is impossible to see the difference between those with real mental illnesses, and those who, without themselves realising, are causing their own illness. Only the individual can recognise that difference.
There is quite some writing on this topic. In particular, I’d suggest checking out Theodore Dalrymple’s book Life at the Bottom. You can find it online for free, but it is incredibly interesting. Only some texts apply to this topic, but it is very insightful in general. Also, because this hasn’t been said enough and I’m typing this paragraph anyway: depression is real. Don’t underestimate it.
Also, I can’t believe I went through such a long post about the DSM-5 without mentioning that “gender dysphoria” is still classified as a mental illness…
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More on this topic from Dean Richards: