Don’t Label Me: I Am Not My Mental Illness

Don’t Label Me: I Am Not My Mental Illness

Being diagnosed with a psychiatric condition can help you find the right path to healing but being labeled with a mental illness may also have a negative impact. It’s no surprise no one wants to see a psychiatrist. No one wants to be labeled as defective or abnormal. Labels can be hurtful, stigmatizing, and demoralizing. They can also be wrong, as Adrianna discovered.

Labels Can Steal Your Life

Adrianna was 16 when she went on a mountain vacation with her family. When they arrived at their cabin, they were surrounded by 6 deer. It was a beautiful moment. Just 10 days later Adrianna became agitated and started having auditory hallucinations.

Her parents sought help for Adrianna, who was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, diagnosed with schizophrenia, and prescribed antipsychotic medications, which didn’t help. The next 3 months were a torturous road of different doctor and multiple medications, at a cost of nearly $100,000.

Adrianna had become a shadow of her former self. Desperate, her parents took Adrianna for a brain scan in order to gain a better understanding of what was wrong with their daughter. The brain imaging study, which was performed with a technology called SPECT, showed areas of unusually high activity.

It showed there could be other potential causes for her symptoms, such as an infection or toxicity. It turned out Adrianna had Lyme disease, an infection often caused by deer ticks. Treatment with antibiotics helped her get her life back. 

Adrianna didn’t have schizophrenia, but if she hadn’t gotten a brain scan and additional lab testing, she might have been stuck with that label for the rest of her life. Her uncle had been hospitalized for 25 years with schizophrenia before testing positive for Lyme.

The Stain of Mental Illness Labels

No one is shamed for cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. Likewise, no one should be shamed for bipolar disorder, depression, panic disorders, or schizophrenia. Yet, being labeled with a mental illness insidiously stains everyone diagnosed.

For some people, having a label—whether it’s depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, schizophrenia, or OCD—makes you feel worse about yourself. You can feel defined by your diagnosis. But you are so much more than a diagnosis.

Labels lump people into a group even though they may have vastly different experiences. For example, 5 people with depression may have strikingly dissimilar symptoms—one might be wracked with sadness while another is filled with anger, one might have no appetite while another can’t stop eating, and yet another might have difficulty concentrating.

On top of that, the root causes and contributing factors of their symptoms could also vary widely—from traumatic brain injury to hormonal imbalances, from food sensitivities to chaotic home life, from neurochemical imbalances to infections like the Lyme disease that was causing Adrianna’s symptoms.

Giving them all the same label denies their individuality and lowers the ability to find personalized treatment plans. They end up with one-size-fits-all treatments that may help some but can make others worse.

It is time to start looking at people as individuals, not as a cluster of symptoms. Psychiatrists and other mental health providers need to examine all the factors that might be contributing to a person’s symptoms, including abnormal brain activity as well as biological, psychological, social, and spiritual issues. Only then can people escape hurtful labels and stay focused on healing.

At Amen Clinics, we treat the whole person, not the label. We use brain SPECT imaging to identify any abnormal brain activity and look into all the possible causes for your symptoms so you can get personalized solutions to help you feel like yourself again.

If you’re suffering from any kind of bothersome symptoms, such as chronic negativity, anxious thoughts, memory loss, or trouble with focus, call 888-288-9834 to talk to a specialist today or schedule a visit.

5 Comments

  1. The practice of not giving patients labels is problematic in a number of ways.

    When a patient goes to a new doctor, they should not start from scratch.

    With a diagnosis, other symptoms can be watched for. Risk factors can be identified. Treatment can be much more appropriate.

    It is disrespectful to refuse a diagnosis.

    Many, many people are vastly relieved to have a diagnosis. A diagnosis is something a patient can research themself.

    I find the idea of not giving someone a diagnosis very patronizing.

    The problem in your example is not that the patient was given a diagnosis. It is that they were given the wrong diagnosis.

    Comment by Natasha Millikan — November 27, 2019 @ 3:59 AM

  2. I am shocked to hear about that young girl’s diagnosis and eventual diagnosis correction. Am I to assume that her uncle also was healed?

    I have had anxiety for many years with periodic panic attacks and have never worried about what anyone thought about it. Keys to management of the condition include:

    1) Removal from an emotionally abusive work environment. I suffered ( and still do to an extent PTSD as well).
    2) Heathy diet. No junk food or sodas.
    3) Regular exercise.
    4) Vitamins
    5) Music

    ..

    Comment by Sandra Meyer — November 27, 2019 @ 5:44 AM

  3. Labels are harmful in that they can keep you from getting a job that you know you can do; and they can also keep you from getting a promotion at that job because in the cutthroat business of office politics the label is used against you. Labels can make you afraid to ever meet people because you are afraid in some cases that they will prejudge you before they even get to know you. Generally people treat handicapped people in a condescending matter or they avoid them. Also if a person is given a wrong label it is easier sometimes to start from scratch. There is so much more known now about Schizophrenia Bi Polar and Alzheimers and about their potential causes and things that can imitate them than was known 50 years ago. This is one reason I am thankful for the Spect scans.

    Comment by Adelia Lorene Hitt — November 27, 2019 @ 7:07 AM

  4. Receiving a diagnosis should only occur after a medical assessment has been done to rule out medical issues. This is a case in point. I found this reader’s statements rather extreme. A mental health diagnosis should be treated as a guide in treatment, not an absolute. After all, how many times has a client stated that they’ve been diagnosed by several different practitioners and have held different diagnoses and different stages of their lives? Finding not giving an individual patronizing? I certainly don’t understand this!

    Comment by AnnaMarie UriosteSmith — November 27, 2019 @ 8:35 AM

  5. While possible stigmatization, patient rights to information and the close relationship between diagnosis and treatment are all important concerns, there are fundamental issues with psychological/psychiatric diagnosis that potentially impact all of them. The issues of which I speak arise primarily from well known and well documented problems with the DSM as the principal diagnostic guide used by mental health practitioners. Description of these problems at any meaningful level of detail is far beyond the scope of this comment. They include problems in basic classification methodology (e.g. overlapping diagnostic criteria for numerous disorders, heterogeneity within individual disorder criteria that can result in the same diagnosis for two patients based on entirely different criteria or symptoms), diagnostic criteria that reduce to entirely subjective determinations (e.g. criteria determined to be “clinically significant”, arbitrary or non-existent standards for determining what is “normal”), lack of scientific basis for many disorders, and a process of review and revision highly vulnerable to political and financial influence.

    The overall impact of these problems is distressing, to say the least. The APA’s own field trials for DSM-5 indicated test-retest reliability, measured by Kappa coefficient, for some disorders as low as .20, meaning essentially that only 20% of diagnosticians evaluating the same patient with access to the same data agreed on a given diagnosis. Test-retest reliability of .20 is close to random. Even a Kappa of .50 seriously undermines, or should undermine, confidence in any diagnosis. Even more troubling is the fact that the APA, rather than re-examine the problematic definitions and criteria (identification of which was originally a stated purpose of the field trials), elected to lower their standards for determining whether test-retest reliability for a given diagnostic category was acceptable — results as low as .40 were deemed “good”, results as low as .21 “questionable”, and only results below .20 were deemed “unacceptable.” See, Regier, DA et al, “DSM-5 Field Trials in the United States and Canada, Part II: Test-Retest Reliability of Selected Categorical Diagnoses”, American Journal of Psychiatry, January, 2013. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2012.12070999.
    A recent study by researchers at the Institute of Psychology Health and Society at the University of Liverpool has yielded perhaps the most unequivocally negative conclusions about the DSM-5 to date. Based on a comprehensive analysis of five major classes of disorders in the DSM, researchers concluded that the disorders defined in DSM-5 were scientifically meaningless and of little value in accurately identifying disorders and determining appropriate treatment. Kate Allsopp, John Read, Rhiannon Corcoran, Peter Kinderman. “Heterogeneity in psychiatric diagnostic classification”, Psychiatry Research, 2019; 279: 15 DOI: 10.1016/j.psychres.2019.07.005. In the words of Dr. Allsopp, the lead author of the study, “Although diagnostic labels create the illusion of an explanation they are scientifically meaningless.” Another research on the project, Professer Peter Kinderman of University of Liverpool, was more specific in his commentary: “This study provides yet more evidence that the biomedical diagnostic approach in psychiatry is not fit for purpose. Diagnoses frequently and uncritically reported as ‘real illnesses’ are in fact made on the basis of internally inconsistent, confused and contradictory patterns of largely arbitrary criteria. The diagnostic system wrongly assumes that all distress results from disorder, and relies heavily on subjective judgments about what is normal.” See, “Psychiatric Diagnosis is ‘Scientifically Meaningless’”, Science Daily, July 8, 2019, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/07/190708131152.htm

    These are not fringe or isolated opinions. Serious questions as to the validity of DSM-5 have been raised by leading members of the mental health professions since its publication. Numerous peer-reviewed studies and reports reveal that psychiatric/psychological diagnosis according to DSM criteria and methodology is a hit or miss proposition. The story about Adrianna and other observations about diagnostic labels included in the above post are entirely consistent with studies on reliability of DSM-based diagnosis and critical analysis of the categorical system of classification underlying the DSM.

    Psychiatric/psychological diagnosis involves areas of science and medicine that remain very much a mystery – the development and functioning of the human brain and, on a broader level, the human mind. Even if we had definitive, biomedical markers for every psychological disorder (which we clearly do not), the challenge of determining appropriate treatment would still remain. Considering that many, if not most, psychological disorders are the result of developmental processes initiated and/or aggravated by life experience occurring over time, ultimately resulting in complex physiological and electrochemical alterations that dictate how our brains process information and other forms of sensory input, it stands to reason that effective treatment must include measures designed to address the physiological and electrochemical changes associated with a disorder of in addition to relieving symptoms observed by a psychiatrist or psychologist or reported by patient .

    While science and medicine have yet to come up with a perfect solution to diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders, the approach taken by Amen Clinics to go beyond one-dimensional categorical diagnosis and utilize the broadest possible range of data, including neuroimaging, to identify the nature of a patient’s psychological problem and determine appropriate treatment would seem to represent a significant step in the right direction.

    Jeff Riggs
    riggsco@gmail.com

    Comment by Geoffrey Riggs — November 28, 2019 @ 12:06 AM

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