Over the past few decades, there has been a great deal of criticism of the practices that psychiatry used to practice at certain points in its history. For example, the anti-psychiatric movement, led by leaders such as RD Laing, denounced the over-medication and vexatious treatment of many vulnerable people in mental health centers, as well as an overly biological approach.
Today, psychiatry has improved a lot and the critics against it have lost a lot of force, but battle fronts still exist. One of them is the idea that psychiatric labels used to diagnose mental disorders are, in fact, stigmatizing, Thus aggravating the problem. But … how true is this? Let’s see.
Criticisms of psychiatric labels
These types of attacks targeting the use of diagnostic tags are generally based on two basic ideas.
The first is that mental disorders are not really abnormalities that have an origin in the biological configuration of the person, that is, they are not a fixed characteristic, in the same way that you are. have a nose of a certain way or hair of a certain color. Anyway, these mental problems would be the result of a system of interaction with the environment born from one or more experiences that have marked us in the past. Thus, the use of labels is not justified, as it indicates that the problem lies in the fact that the patient is isolated from the environment.
The second is that in today’s social context, the use of these names serves to put people at a disadvantage and vulnerable position, which not only harms personal relationships but also influences job search etc. In a way, it is criticized that these labels dehumanize the wearer, Passing off that person as another person diagnosed with a certain disorder, as if everything they do, feel, and think are the result of the disease and their existence is completely interchangeable with that of anyone with an equal label.
Both of these ideas seem reasonable and it is clear that people with mental disorders still suffer from a clear stigma today. However, everything seems to indicate that it is not the use of these tags that produces this bad image. Let’s see what we know on the subject.
The influence of diagnostic categories
For starters, it should be noted that diagnostic labels are not adjectives, nor are they used to broadly understand what a person looks like. In any case, they are theoretical constructs developed by experts that help to understand what types of problems are the ones the person is most likely to experience; having depression is not the same as having autism, and while these categories don’t tell us about someone’s personality, they do help you know how to intervene to improve your quality of life.
On the other hand, the stigma of mental disorders dates back several centuries before the advent of medicine as we know it, let alone psychiatry. By appearing, these applied sciences they acted in accordance with this marginalization of disturbed minoritiesBut this discrimination already existed and appears documented in very old texts. In fact, at certain points in history, it was believed that the symptoms were manifestations of Satan, and therefore the proximity of a mentally disturbed person was dangerous.
Beyond this fact, there is nothing to indicate that the quality of life of those diagnosed has deteriorated after their visit to the psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.
Go to tests
Is there any evidence behind the claim that diagnostic labels are harmful? If there is, they are very weak. For example, David Rosenhan, one of the leading health critics of the practice, declined to provide empirically obtained data to prove it when another researcher named Robert Spitzer was interviewed.
Years later, a writer named Lauren Slater claimed to have performed an experiment in which she faked mental illness and managed to get a psychiatric diagnosis. However, he eventually admitted that this research did not exist.
On the other hand, much of the reviewers point out that it is very easy to be diagnosed in a psychiatric category or one that is uncertain. There are cases of people who they simulate the symptoms and manage to deceive the medical staffBut by stopping pretending, instead of leaving the medical history as is, there is the observation that the disorder is about to go away, which is very rarely left in writing in the event of an actual disorder. This fact indicates that doctors are able, despite the desire to deceive, to distinguish severe cases from others in which it progresses towards recovery.
It is therefore better to take advantage of the good side of the tools that good psychiatry gives us, without being mistaken in believing that these labels sum up who we are.
- Spitzer, RL (1976). More information on pseudoscience in science and the case of psychiatric diagnosis. Archives of General Psychiatry, 33, pages 459 – 470.