Medicalizing Normalcy

If it seems like every little human quirk and tic is a psychological disorder nowadays, that’s because it is. Psychiatrists and psychologists dash pell-mell, Oklahoma Sooner-like, to expand the territory of their authority. Apparently it’s just going to get pell-meller with the upcoming fifth edition of the D.S.M.:

Indeed, the D.S.M. is the victim of its own success and is accorded the authority of a bible in areas well beyond its competence. It has become the arbiter of who is ill and who is not — and often the primary determinant of treatment decisions, insurance eligibility, disability payments and who gets special school services. D.S.M. drives the direction of research and the approval of new drugs. It is widely used (and misused) in the courts. 

Until now, the American Psychiatric Association seemed the entity best equipped to monitor the diagnostic system. Unfortunately, this is no longer true. D.S.M.-5 promises to be a disaster — even after the changes approved this week, it will introduce many new and unproven diagnoses that will medicalize normality and result in a glut of unnecessary and harmful drug prescription. The association has been largely deaf to the widespread criticism of D.S.M.-5, stubbornly refusing to subject the proposals to independent scientific review.

It’s not like the kudzuish spread of psychiatry has just been imposed from above, though. We in the science-loving West embrace these sciency explanations of our idiosyncrasies with the wide open arms of an unemployed loser getting a pool float sized check from the Publisher’s Clearinghouse people.

Because when our shyness or fear or weakness can be diagnosed as a medical condition, then it’s no longer a character flaw, and we’re off the hook! It’s not my fault I’m constantly late; it’s my Chronology Impairment Syndrome!

Psychiatric diagnoses are products just like any other, and they are in high demand right now. So it’s no surprise that–like Taco Bell, which keeps coming up with new ways to sell ground beef and folded tortillas–psychiatrists will keep coming up with new ways to tell us that we’re really not dumb, or lazy, or bad, we’re just sick.

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