I have been wondering how much of liberty can be taken with regard to ‘labelling’ deviant behaviour as psychiatric illness. The latest edition of the DSM-IV has incorporated a new diagnosis into its classification of mental illness. It goes by the name ‘Oppositional defiant disorder’ (ODD).

As stated in this article, what were in the past labelled as personality traits are now increasingly being pushed into the category of mental illness.

This reminds me of a question a professor once posed to us in class: ‘What defines normal?’ To the answer, ‘Majority defines normal’, his reply was a question: ‘What if the population of reference is a mental asylum?’

It has taken me all these years to realize the profundity in that question. With reference to the human mind, when the paths available for it to traverse are infinite, is it really possible to define normal? I am reminded of Nietzsche’s words:

Digressions, objections, delight in mockery, carefree mistrust are signs of health; everything unconditional belongs in pathology.”

If we go by the current attitude of the psychiatrist community, we would be branding majority of the population as abnormal and certainly all the geniuses as mentally ill! As stated in a Washington Post article: ‘If Mozart were born today, he would be diagnosed with ADD and medicated into barren normality.’

The argument offered with respect to labelling is that it would guide treatment, make it more evidence-based and enable standardization. But with the human mind, is it really possible to have one common solution for the multitude of deviations it resorts to? The only outcome of this labelling has been to overdiagnose mental illness, and of course, to make drug marketing a profitable endeavour.

In my opinion, deviant behaviour that poses difficulty to the self or to others should still be the realm of psychology, rather than psychiatry. It should be viewed as a personality evolved from a multitude of factors in the background. These background factors have to be extensively explored, insights drawn as to how they have contributed to shaping the individual’s personality and these insights used for cognitive therapy, which has to be highly individualistic.

There was a time when I wanted to be a psychiatrist. But today, I wish to be a psychologist. I want to intervene much before the mind has resorted to an extreme coping mechanism for survival. I want to work with children, adolescents, parents and teachers and in association with psychologists and psychiatrists in the creation of a social environment that is conducive to promoting and sustaining a healthy mind.

I remember the words of my professor: ‘Psychiatry is not really an independent discipline. It is something we need to practise in every other discipline…every day of our life!’


5 thoughts on “NORMAL REDEFINED

  1. H.Javid

    Non-conformism and freethinking as mental disorders indeed?!!!!!
    It’s all about control and domination. We are slowly but surely moving towards an Orwellian nightmare as envisaged in “1984”.
    I am reminded of a quote of Jiddu Krishnamurthy: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
    I had wanted to go in for Psychiatry too, after graduation. But certain experiences made me realize very soon that psychiatry was mostly pretentious bunkum and becoming too reliant on drugs to ‘cure’ or ‘stabilize’.
    I’m sure you’d like to watch “The Marketing of Madness – The Truth about Psychotropic Drugs”. It is longish (almost 3 hrs) and available on YouTube. In fact it was one of the documentaries I had wanted to send you. There has been some criticism of it due to the fact that it was funded by the Scientology people, but I don’t see why that fact should take away from what it states.

    1. Dr Javid,
      Thank you for the article and for the comment.
      The whole magic of ‘living’ lies in ‘experiencing’. And when we have molecules that can numb our awareness of experiences, we are as good as a comatose patient. What quality of life are we left with?
      With the discovery of neurotransmitters and studies detailing the molecular mechanisms of these molecules, the scope for tampering has become far greater. It is a forgotten fact that a drug cannot mimic the natural release of these substances in our brain.
      Already, a good proportion of the elderly are on psychotropic drugs. And with such revisions in the DSM, it looks like these drugs would soon penetrate a significant segment of society.
      I have always thought ‘art’ was man’s greatest coping mechanism against mental illness. But we shall soon have psychotropic drugs replacing art 🙂
      Will certainly watch that documentary!

  2. The brain resides in the skull, but the mind ? And the heart ? Not the heart made of cardiac tissue, but the ‘heart’ and the mind , where we ‘feel’ and ‘live’ our lives ? Where do they reside ?

    The drugs affect the tissues, but somehow influence the ‘heart’ and the ‘mind’, a fact that scientists and pharmacists are not able to distinguish between. Similarly psychiatrists need to know that it’s not the brain where a person lives his life, but in the abstract spaces that are not confined to the physical body.

    I too was interested in psychiatry to help and aid in the more pressing problems of ‘diseased’ individuals. Fortunately was led to ‘alternative’ methods, which I find more appealing and in fact effective. Takes a leap of faith for some, for me it was a bit easy… to give up conventional medicine and to let my heart lead to way I feel I can better serve humanity 🙂

    1. You speak out my mind, Taheseen. Indeed, that interface where the brain meets the mind….where the mind really dwells- it will perhaps remain a domain that science can never really claim. It remains the territory of those few individuals whose minds can take a walk into this abstract, without really dissecting or defining it, and yet, influencing it. Thank you for your insightful comment!

  3. Pingback: NORMAL REDEFINED – Vidya Chathoth

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