Dubious Diagnostic Disorders Demonise our Children and Can Cause Long-term Psychological and Physical Harm
Since the ‘Psychiatrists’ Bible,’ DSM-5 was published in May 2013, children are leaving clinics everyday around the Western World with stigmatising and often unhelpful labels of mental disorders tied tightly around their young necks. See my, ‘All around the world’ poem earlier this month. We know from the field of Attribution Theory that people become more like the characteristics that significant others donate to them in childhood and over time this creates a vicious cycle of progressive pathologisation with a young person’s spiraling downwards self-esteem and self-efficacy.
So a child who may be a little shy when given the label of Social Anxiety Disorder by a Psychiatrist may indeed due to a societal ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ become more acutely aware of being anxious in a range of social situations. The key question is, “Is this label helpful or unhelpful to the young person maximising their human potentials and going forward in life as a confident adolescent or adult?” Many psychologists would say that raising the young person’s awareness about the potential stressors could indeed backfire and contribute to a sensitive and suggestible individual understandably deteriorating further in this regard.
Also, does a child who is experiencing significant loss of a family member respond well to a label of Temporary Grief Syndrome where drugs, such as Anti-depressants with all their risks, can now be prescribed within two weeks of the sudden death. This is due to the removal of the ‘Bereavement Exclusion clause’ that had previously protected such children and young people from such an eventuality. Does this potentially pejorative label of being a sick individual who needs anti-depressants, so soon after the bereavement, cause long-term mental harm and create psycho-pharmaceutical dependency in their future life?
Likewise in a third scenario does a child who is acutely anxious about family dynamics and domestic violence that they have witnessed benefit from having the pattern of presenting behaviours diagnosed as ADHD when then medication used for that condition is contra-indicated in severe anxiety cases. Sadly many cases occur where this clinical guidance is ignored and again the child’s normal pattern of behaviour is pathologised by being labelled a clinical disorder.
‘Medical Model’ explanations that locate the problem as ‘within the child’ are just as questionable as the preferred media explanation of the regular mass shootings, which occur all too frequently in the U.S., being due to a disorder in the perpetrator rather than being caused by a complex interaction of factors. These often include trauma, significant life-events and environmental stressors along with of course the fact that the side effects of the psychotropic drugs that they are on often cause the young person to do harm to themselves or others.
The majority of psychologists today believe in the concept of Social Constructivism and the fact that patterns of serious behaviour often the result from the interaction and influence of a range of understandable stressors affecting the young mind. As eminent psychologists like Lucy Johnstone say, mental distress is an interactive response often to early childhood trauma, many times witnessing domestic violence or familial bullying within a context of attachment difficulties. Certainly, systemmatic abuse of adult power will invariably be a major feature. So what do we do as a progressive society – exactly – we model another abuse of adult power called Psychiatric Diagnosis when a softer and more collaborative Psychological Formulation is what would be more helpful to client and professionals alike. Many worry that this misuse of power is neo-colonial in nature and can ‘retraumatise the client’ which is a reasonable term when considering Electro Convulsive Therapy or very toxic ‘drug cocktails’ which are becoming more prevalent these days.
I have coined the term ‘Psycho-Economic Imperialism’ which I have defined as the biochemical colonisation of young developing minds for huge commercial profits and wider social control. Although this sounds a very politicised and strong statement, I feel that on reflection since I wrote this definition, that it has held true and no evidence has come to my attention to disprove this critical assertion. Many colleagues from a wide range of child related disciplines have also concurred with this definition of what I feel certain is one of the most cynical and corrosive social policy decisions of our time i.e. the drive to stigmatise, classify and treat normal childhood behavioural presentations as organic medical disorders that need pharmaceutical intervention.
I would like to end with a quote from one of the cultural heroes of out time Nelson Mandella when he said,
There is no better way to judge a society than by the way it chooses to treat its children.
So how do we want our societies to be judged in the twenty first century?
- Formulation in Psychology and Psychotherapy – making sense of people’s problems by Lucy Johnstone and Rudi Dallos (Second Edition 2014) Routledge, London.
- Safeguarding a Generation of Children from Over-diagnosis and Prescription of Psychotropic Drugs – by Dave Traxson – dxsummit.org website – 30th October, 2013.