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Are We Over-Diagnosing Mental Illness?

Mental health issues are quickly reaching heights of epidemic proportions in the modern and western world.

While some people blame the emergence of technology or the stress of today’s society, there is really no way we can say that life is harder than any other time in history.

Each generation and each era has had its own struggles and tribulations. It’s great that we are so open about these issues now. We don’t encourage people to just ‘suck it up.’ Instead, we encourage each other to talk about it - which is, again, great news.

Transparency and honesty are becoming more prominent pillars in our communication of how we are feeling. Thus, we are able to make closer connections and more meaningful relationships.

But does that necessarily mean we aren’t allowed to be sad? No.

Emotions are a normal part of being human. In fact, it’s what makes us human.

The other argument arises that more mental health care diagnoses are made now because it’s more accepting - which true, but what if we really are just over diagnosing sadness or regular stress that has allowed human life to thrive throughout time?

The truth of the matter is: It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be mad. It’s okay to get frustrated. It’s alright to be nervous. It’s absolutely fine to sit with your feelings for a bit and really feel it. But does that mean you’re clinically depressed? Does it determine that you have an anxiety disorder if you get nervous before a big presentation? What’s going on?

The Stigma is Fading

I’m not trying to make an argument for not seeking out help. If you feel you need it or someone voices their concern, you should get the help you need. And I really do believe it’s beyond great that we are able to see straight through the stigma that has overshadowed mental illness in the past.

Truth be told, we could all probably use a little therapy. Heck, I would love to spend upwards of a grand a month on a really good therapist to help me sort out my thoughts and feelings, as well as come up with better coping strategies. I always believe we can do better, and yup, therapy would definitely help us all get there.

In the past, mental illness has faced a ton of adversity. Knowing the ones I love in my life that have struggled through depression, this is a good thing.

We by no means want to take away from mental health issues and mental illness being a real thing. They are. I’ve seen it firsthand. It’s as real as you and me.

But 1 out of 25 kids, between the ages of 14 and 17 in the United States are on antidepressants.

The questions remain; do these children need to be on antidepressants? What is “normal” child behaviour? What are these medications doing to the brains of these still developing teenagers? Are we creating a bigger problem?

It’s confusing.

I think the bigger story here comes down to the drugs we are prescribing to still growing and developing bodies.

Teenage angst is a real thing. Your hormones are all over the place. Puberty is rough. Does that mean we need to put our kids on medication - medication which is iffy about the effects, especially in the long term?

My answer: I really don’t know.

No one does.

But it’s not a bad idea to start asking these questions regarding mental health issues and mental health care. After all, the goal is to optimize ourselves and our health. We want to help the ones we love feel better. We want positivity. We want to feel good. Who doesn’t?

Yet… we don’t want to feel good at the expense of adverse health effects or consequences in the near or distant future.

The Diagnostic Problem

In Psychology Today, Allen J Francis M.D. states,

“The “epidemics” in psychiatry are caused by changing diagnostic fashions - the people don’t change, the labels do. There are no objective tests in psychiatry; no x-ray, laboratory, or exam finding that says definitively that someone does or does not have a mental disorder. What is diagnosed as mental disorder is very sensitive to professional and social contextual forces. Rates of disorder rise easily because mental disorder has such fluid boundaries with normality.”

On top of the diagnostic problem, we are possibly overdiagnosing medications. Some people need it - absolutely. But we haven’t fully nailed down the long-term effects or the combination of medications that actually help solve the problem.

In fact, some of these anti-anxiety medications or antidepressant medications have shown to have variable adverse effects.

Harvard Medical School outlines many negative health effects of these drugs, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Blood clotting issues
  • Internal bleeding issues
  • Reduces sexual drive
  • Blurred vision
  • Reduced tolerance to the drug
  • Mood swings
  • Premature births
  • Various possible drug interactions
  • Suicide (in extreme cases)

Again, these medications, in some cases, can save lives. I’ve also seen this. Some doctors - not all - prescribe these medications for the short-term. It allows individuals to find strategies to cope, such as lifestyle factors, relaxation techniques, and more.

There’s Hope for the Future

We are getting there, slowly but surely. It’s hopeful that in the next century there will be a more decisive option when it comes to mental health issues and recovery. Another problem arises here involving the unique differences between all of us and our bodies. Similar to how people tolerate different foods, people also react differently to different treatment and medications.

If you’re feeling down, it’s okay. You aren’t alone. If you’re thinking about suicide, seek out professional help. Talk to someone. That’s okay too.

We’re all in this thing called life together. As turbulent as it is, I like to believe we are becoming a more cohesive and caring society. It’s okay to ask questions. This is how we move forward into a better future. We need to continue to ask these tough and controversial questions to get to where we want to be.

Again, we’re getting there. The future is bright, friends.

Related Article: How Spending More Time Alone Can Help You Manage Your Anxiety

Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden

"Believing in yourself is really half the battle," says Krista. Anything is possible and you really can achieve anything you set your mind to, is her motto. Physiotherapist, Piano player, skydiver, yogi, adventure traveler and energetic force of positivity, Krista is herself a (delightful) force to be reckoned with! As... Read More

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