Creating a Mental Disorder in Five Minutes Flat
First, let’s choose some common human experience that most people find unpleasant. How about boredom? Most people experience boredom as unpleasant—let’s get started and substitute the word “pathological” for unpleasant. Doesn’t that simple switch start to give it that ‘disease feel’ already? Pathological boredom!
The next step is to name our disease. How about “interest deficit disorder” or “motivation deficit disorder”? Better yet, let’s find a medical-sounding word from Latin to substitute for boredom. How about “Dysmoveria”? Movere is Latin for motivation. By naming our disease, we are practically all the way to creating it. When you open a door to a new mental disorder millions of people will rush headlong right in and embrace it, as if they’d been waiting their whole life for just this opportunity. Suddenly they aren’t sad or anxious or bored—they’re afflicted with something.
We have our disease named: dysmoveria. It sounds a little strange now but it won’t when tens of millions of people start using it and chatting about their disorder. “I’m taking Moveritol for my dysmoveria and it’s working wonders!”
Next we need a symptom picture. What does it look like and feel like when you’re bored? Well, a bored person would probably experience some or all of the following:
1. A lack of interest in usual pursuits
2. Apathy about life
3. A pessimistic attitude
4. Feelings of “going through the motions”
5. Difficulty concentrating on ordinary tasks
6. A lack of energy
7. Chronic fatigue
8. Sleeping too much or too little
9. Feelings of boredom
How many of these must be present in order for us to “diagnose the mental disorder” of dysmoveria? Since obviously we want more rather than fewer people to fit the diagnostic criteria so that we can create plenty of patients and plenty of drug buyers for Moveritol, let’s make sure that only a few symptoms are needed in order to qualify—let’s say, five. Let’s continue pulling numbers out of thin air and say that these five symptoms must have been present for at least two weeks. Five symptoms, two weeks—sounds good.
Let’s also make this negotiable. If only four symptoms are present and if they’ve only been present for twelve days, we’re not going to quibble. Heck, if the “primary” symptom is present—feelings of boredom—that’s really enough! We’ll call that looseness “professional discretion.”
Officially you will need to display five symptoms and have displayed them for two weeks. We offer no rationale for these numbers, as no rationale is needed when creating a new mental disorder. Nor could any rationale conceivably be provided. Unofficially, all you need to do is announce that you’re bored—that’s all we really need to hear!
Next, if we were doing this “for real,” we would gather a panel of clinicians—some psychiatrists, psychologists, family therapists, and clinical social workers—and we’d ask them, “Do your clients or patients ever report this symptom picture?” “Yes!” they’d cry in unison. “We see this all time!” “Great!” we’d reply. “We have ourselves a genuine disorder!”
Next we’d work on “differential diagnosis criteria,” that is, on distinguishing dysmoveria from, say, clinical depression, which it quite resembles in its symptom picture. How would we know which was which? Naturally enough, we would know according to the self-reports of patients. The primary differential diagnostic criterion would be that if you reported feeling sad we’d go with depression and if you reported feeling bored we’d go with dysmoveria. Simple enough!
Next, how shall we treat dysmoveria? Well, with some “combination” of treatments—this allows everyone with a clinical practice to have patients. Whatever your license says you are allowed to do, we will say “works.” Those clinicians like psychologists, family therapists and clinical social workers who can’t prescribe medication will be permitted to “talk it away.” Those clinicians like psychiatrists who can prescribe medication will be permitted to prescribe. We need not provide any rationale as to why a mental disorder should be treatable just by talking about it. Talking is a completely customary way to treat mental disorders and needs no rationale.
Of course we’d get drug researchers right on it to create a drug that can reduce or eliminate the symptoms of dysmoveria. This is much simpler than it sounds, since there is no actual underlying disease to be treated. If you had a malignant tumor, you’d need to treat the tumor and not just the symptoms of its presence. Here we are just treating symptoms, since there is nothing present “underneath” except boredom. So our drug research can be up and running instantly, since our goal is the relatively simple one of eliminating or masking certain symptoms.
An additional option, if we happen to have a few neuroscientists among our friends, would be to have them do a little brain scanning. You know what? They would discover that a brain looks different according to whether you do or don’t have dysmoveria! Wow. When you’re bored fewer parts of your brain light up than when you’re excited. This kind of observation thrills people and sounds very scientific. It is completely meaningless in and of itself—of course your brain will light up in different ways depending on whether you’re watching the shopping channel or doing calculus—but people take it to mean something. This is muddy cause-and-effect in action. So it’s quite a useful add-on!
Naturally it helps in this process of creating mental disorders to be in a position of authority. Being a psychiatrist or having some association with a drug company wouldn’t hurt. But, really, anyone can pull off the feat. Just write a book that makes the case for your new mental disorder, hire a publicist, and let’s see how long it takes before patients line up! Wouldn’t millions of people suddenly discover that they were suffering from “email distraction disorder” or “post-retirement dysthmia” as soon as they heard about it? You bet they would!
Any unwanted human experience can be turned into a mental disorder by following the simple steps I’ve just outlined. Try it yourself with envy (invidia), rage (furorism), loneliness (infrequentia), or doubt (dubitarism). You can turn any normal human experience into a mental disorder following these steps. Sleeping more than usual? Going through the motions? Not interested in what’s going on around you? Apathetic? Bored? That exactly describes a teenager on a two-week summer vacation with her parents! But now we have a better name for it: dysmoveria. Isn’t it nice that soon there will be a drug to give your daughter so that she will be more pleasant and pliable when she accompanies you on your annual vacation to Nebraska?
I think you can see the basic ruse. What is the phrase “mental disorder” supposed to connote? As it is currently used, it means precisely the following: anything not wanted. All you need to do is give the unwanted experience a medical-sounding name and describe its look and you’ve created a disorder. That look is called a “symptom picture” but that’s just a fancy phrase meant to sound more impressive than “look.” Give a human experience a fancy name and describe its look—that’s all that’s needed. The unwanted, troubling experience is surely real, but calling it a mental disorder is just a profitable naming game.