How to do a disservice to people with psychiatric disorders.

I had a discussion today with a colleague that I would like to share. We both spend a shamefully large amount of our freetime roaming teh interwebz and keep stumbling upon blogposts/tweets/ramblings of people lamenting their “OCD/phobia/depression/insert psychiatric disorder here”. Only that sometimes, the examples that accompanied those posts kind of rubbed us the wrong way. I’d like to explain why.

Now I’ve been working as a clinical psychologist for a while now and I realize that mental health is a spectrum, not a yes/no dichotomy. But I also believe it is important to draw a line somewhere between “bad habits, negative feelings or uncomfortable thoughts and emotions that everybody has from time to time and are perfectly normal” and behavior and experiences that cause suffering so intense and impairing it requires professional treatment.

For instance: I have a balcony. I like to sit on that balcony to have breakfast, which for me entails having at least one cup of delicious coffee. When I stand on that balcony and hold my cup of coffee, arm stretched out over the banister, I get these intrusive thoughts of deliberately letting the cup fall on the head of a person passing underneath, accompanied by an incredibly uncomfortable feeling of inner tension. My point: I am indeed displaying some experiences and thoughts of a person who suffers from a subtype of obsessive compulsive disorder. But do I have clinical OCD? No. I don’t. Just as any person who gets a queasy feeling when their DVDs are not aligned straight (and nothing else) does not have OCD. Just as a person who has “mood swings” (and nothing else) doesn’t have a Borderline “personality disorder”. Just as a person who is merely introverted doesn’t have a social phobia or autism.

Why do I think that distinction is important? Because if what you’re experiencing belongs inside the healthy spectrum of human experience and behavior (and that’s a pretty wide spectrum) and you just give yourself the label of a psychiatric disorder without being diagnosed by a professional, I suspect you’re abusing that label for rather self-serving purposes. And you’re making it harder for people who actually suffer from a psychological disorder to be taken seriously. People who have been told over and over again that they just “have to keep it together”. Who should “relax, smile more, get out more”. Whose pain is “only in their heads”. And who truly cannot simply do those things, because they have a disorder. can hold my cup over that banister. It may be uncomfortable, but I can live with it. The people I am referring to and who anger me with their hasty labelling can bear with the crooked alignment of stuff, they can stabilize their mood eventually, they feel great when they’re by themselves and don’t suffer from it.

The majority of people I work with I only get to know because they suffer so much they deem it necessary to seek my help. Many are ashamed of their feelings. Many think they’re “crazy”. Most of them are struggling with accepting they even have a psychological disorder. Most of them do not think it’s something to be proud of and shout out to the world, let alone an anonymous mass of internet users.

If you carelessly apply or even worse, deliberately abuse the label of a psychiatric disorder only to make yourself seem more interesting, let me tell you: you have no idea. Please stop it. Make yourself interesting by contributing something positive to the world, by giving love, by helping others, by sharing your strength. Not by (unintentionally) giving people who have enough sh*t to deal with a bad name. And honestly: those human beings whose burden you’re misusing for whatever purpose are, in my experience, some of the most giving people I have ever met. Take them as an example. Don’t make one of them.

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