Back in 1952, the American Psychiatric Association put out their first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It listed about 100 mental illnesses, including such commonly known diseases as schizophrenia, dementia and mania. This first edition also coined homosexuality as a mental disorder. Back then, psychiatrists actually believed if one underwent electro-shock therapy that sexual orientation would just up and turn around. Wow.
Now, heading into the publication of the seventh edition of this manual, the number of medically verifiable mental illnesses has nearly tripled (and homosexuality is no longer on the list). But, according to a recent article in the New York Times, some illnesses that will presumably make the list are: compulsive shopping, over-eating, various fetishes (quite possibly, the one I have for vintage clothing) and children who continuously recoil from a sound (like that of a fire engine's siren). One can argue that the increase in diagnosable mental illnesses comes with the advances of modern medicine in the 21st century. Makes sense.
Either way, the idea that fairly benign behavioral patterns may soon require psychiatric attention drives me batty.
What frightens me the most(and should frighten you) is not just the social implications of labeling these behaviors as a “mental illness”, it's that a plethora of new pharmaceutical medications will appear to “treat” these new mental disorders.
Lovely, that's just what we need in our already over-medicated society, more medication! Of course, medication is totally appropriate, even life-saving, in certain situations. I'm not knocking it, I just feel as a society we need to move towards being more in touch with why we have certain, potentially harmful, behavioral patterns and away from medicating ourselves through them.
In Oriental Medicine (aka Traditional Chinese Medicine), all “diseases” (where disease is defined as any discomfort or uneasiness) has an emotional root. So, I'm all for the world of psychiatry recognizing that over-eating and compulsive shopping have a root cause of possibly stress, depression or anxiety (maybe all three). However, in Oriental Medicine, we believe in getting to the root of the issue, not covering or numbing the issue with a medication. One can get to the root of their compulsive or harmful behavior (suicidal tendencies or the like, excluded) by observing themselves and their environment; by getting in touch with their life and their reaction to it. Before rushing to the doc to get a pill for your food addiction, why not assess your life. Try asking yourself why you do what you do. I know that takes work and often we don't want to befriend the one person we are closest with, ourselves, but really we should.
Not to sound cliche, but why not try some of these introspective tools:
* Journal (or blog) for five minutes everyday about your feelings, your stress, your anxiety, your partner, your job.. or just write about whatever is on your mind.
* Meditate for a few minutes each day(I swear, its easy).
* Eat healthy. Be conscious of what you feed your body; give it whole-some and alive food instead of processed and refined foods and you'll see your mood lift.
* Exercise. Try to shoot for 30-45 minutes of exercise 3-4 times/week.
* Evaluate the relationships in your life and ask yourself if they're bringing you happiness or taking it away.
* Ask for help. Listen, life is stressful and it can be overwhelming. Consider talking to a therapist or a life coach or both. Find a team of professionals to work with. Sometimes, a lot of the times, it's hard to handle it all ourselves. Asking for help can make all the difference in getting to the “root” of our potentially harmful behavioral patterns.
* And, of course, being a practitioner of Oriental Medicine, I recommend getting some acupuncture!
If we all just spent some time with ourselves and got to the root of what's bringing us down or causing us to shop compulsively or over-eat we'd feel a helluva a lot better. I know it takes time to do these things, but aren't you worth it? Isn't your mental health worth it?
I'll admit, this topic deserves a lot more attention than I'm giving it in this brief blog, but I really think it's something we should all think long and hard about.