On Fearmongering and Mental Disorders
I caught wind of this article via my friend’s Facebook feed this morning and I had to go on a little rant.
The headline reads “Non-Conformity and Questioning Authority are Now Considered Mental Illnesses.”
This is clickbait material and misleading as all hell. Let me tell you straight out, without reading anything else, that this whole headline is not true.
Neither is the first couple lines of the article:
“Do you believe that non-conformity and freethinking are mental illnesses? Well, according to the most recent edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), they are.”
The article goes on to talk about Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) as a new thing (it’s not, it used to be under a different category and it’s been around since the DSM-III in 1980) and how looking at the diagnostic criteria for it, “a number of serious problems arise for free thinkers.”
Now, at this moment I am literally a semester away from obtaining my undergraduate Psychology degree, and I just last semester took a whole course on Abnormal Infant Development. But you don’t have to be me to Google this disorder and look at how wrong they are.
Firstly, the whole article is written as if some dude just had a copy of the DSM open and was flipping through disorders. He has no idea where he is in the classification when he comes across this and he doesn’t understand the disorder to begin with so it strikes him as a crazy diagnosis.
For the record, the DSM-V recognizes 18 different categories of disorders. ODD is under the DIC category – Disruptive, impulse control, and conduct disorders. Like many mental disorders, those in the DIC category involve an inability in the person to regulate their emotions and behavior. The catch is that these problems:
“manifest in behaviors that violate the rights of others (e.g. aggression, destruction of property) and/or bring the individual into significant conflict with societal norms or authority figures.”
That right there should start to ring bells into your head about how extreme your behavior has to be to get a diagnosis under this category – and just how much the authors of this article don’t understand about mental disorders.
Second, ODD is one of those disorders that can only be given to children. Adults are not diagnosed with ODD – but they may need a previous ODD or conduct disorder diagnosis to be considered for further diagnosis later on in life. For instance, a diagnosis of ODD or conduct disorder in childhood would help create a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder later on. This is important, and is not mentioned anywhere in the article. In fact, the only time children are mentioned is near the end of the article where it talks about how many mental disorders are recognized by the DSM. It says “Many of those illnesses target children who have “too much” energy, creativity, or who ask too many questions.” This is entirely wrong, and entirely misleading and I will explain why.
To get a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, your child would need to exhibit at least 4 of the following symptoms:
- Lose their temper
- Be touchy or easily annoyed
- Be angry or resentful
- Argue with authority figures
- Actively defy or refuse to comply with requests from authority figures
- Deliberately annoys others
- Blames others for mistakes or behavior
- Been spiteful or vindictive (at least twice)
Additionally, the presence of these symptoms must occur most days and last at least six months. Reread that. Your child has to exhibit at least four of those problems, most days out of the week, for a full six months to be diagnosed with that. On top of that, they have to exhibit these during interactions with at least one individual who is not a sibling.
Imagine dealing with a child that is very touchy – it’s not hard to make them angry, and they are angry most of the time. They deliberately annoy the people around them, and actively refuse to follow any directions they are given. They are that way almost all the time – it’s hard to have a normal day that doesn’t include this child disturbing the household with screaming and crying. Nothing you do works; the child doesn’t respond to punishment, and sometimes is so out of control you couldn’t punish them if you tried.
Now let’s admit that you would not look at a child like that and call them “free spirited.” You would want some help. You would go to every doctor you could if someone, anyone, could tell you something about why your child does this and how the hell you can fix it.
The other thing I’m not mentioning is the big criteria in any diagnosis ever. That criteria is what I call the functioning criteria – the behavior has to be markedly impacting both the happiness of the child and their social contexts. The behavior is usually preventing the child from engaging with others, and therefore is impacting their ability to learn important social skills and can impact their ability to learn in a classroom later on. This is not a child that can make friends – no one wants to be around them. These are not necessarily children that are hitting others, hurting animals, destroying property, or stealing – those criteria move the diagnosis into conduct disorder.
Now, let’s look at that statement from the article again:
“Many of those illnesses target children who have “too much” energy, creativity, or who ask too many questions.”
Does that sound like a child with ODD?
The answer should be “no.” Here’s why:
A child with ODD isn’t running around aimlessly, full of energy. They are explosively angry when their routine gets interrupted or they can’t get what they want. They throw things. They scream and throw tantrums. They are not trying to be creative – they are not channeling their energy into pictures or building things. They are not being suppressed. They will destroy whatever they’re working on as soon as they get frustrated/angry with it. They will find more pleasure teasing and annoying a sibling or playmate than with drawing/coloring/building anything. A child with ODD isn’t sitting there saying “why?” to mommy when asked to do something. They are simply screaming “no!” They will not eat, sleep, or bathe when a caregiver asks them to. They will not do anything they are asked to do, period. They will not ask why, they will simply refuse.
And remember: this has to happen at least once a week, if not more, consistently for six months without any other explanation – a child neglected by parents will act out because they have no guidance and need some, but a child with ODD will continue to act like this despite efforts from caregivers to correct the behavior. This is not a child having a bad day. This is a child with a problem.
But there’s an even deeper reason why an article like this pisses me off:
You don’t take those with these illnesses seriously, at all.
Have you seen a kid with ADHD, or do you just assume that we slap that label on any child who runs around a lot? Do you think vaccines cause autism too?
No, the answer is our science keeps getting better and we keep noticing that things we previously dismissed as “just kid stuff” is really making our children suffer.
A kid with ADHD can’t focus, and they suffer for that – they can’t be creative, all they can create is chaos, and children with ODD and conduct disorder are the same. A child with ODD isn’t asking too many questions or having their creativity stifled – if you tried to get a child with ODD to be creative as an outlet they’d throw a tantrum and tell you no.
Children with these disorders suffer, sometimes very heavily. To claim that these illnesses only exist to stuff kids into some kind of normal box erases the suffering of the children and of their families. Especially when using ODD – you may as well be saying that these kids would be perfect if the parents just gave them what they wanted all the time. Not only would that not work, but would be bad parenting on top of it.
Articles like this remind me of the people who talk bad about mental disorders like anxiety and depression – “you need to suck it up and get over it” – and ignore the “scary” mental disorders like schizophrenia and dissociation.
In conclusion, articles like this need to be burned for the misleading propaganda it is. Protect children with mental illnesses 2k16.