Labelling youngsters is dangerous

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I CONGRATULATE your journalist, Jennifer Hough, on her insightful response to the recent study of adolescents which claimed that 15% of adolescents shown signs of "mental disorder".

As Ms Hough rightly points out "labelling people’s emotions as a mental disorder" is not only unhelpful but "serves to stigmatise". Such labelling can only add to any feelings of fear, panic, depression or helplessness, which the victims of such a study may already have been experiencing. The psychiatrist, Prof Cannon, who carried out the research, claims that the questionnaire gave "a broad outline of how many children may be possibly in the risk area for a later mental illness". An example of the questions put to the children was "have you ever felt sad, blue, down or empty?" I would challenge Prof Cannon to find any one person who has never experienced any of the above emotions; but to use such questions as a yardstick to determine whether a child is at risk of developing a "depressive disorder" is dangerous and frightening for parents and young people. Another question put to the children was in relation to "hearing voices" when nobody else was in the room. Now, everyone hears voices. Constant chatter goes on in the mind. In a crisis situation these "voices" may seem to come from outside oneself as the wisdom of the unconscious tries to alert one to find a resolution to a difficult situation. When the problem is addressed the symptoms very often disappear. Unfortunately , the approach taken in traditional psychiatry was to treat the symptoms through labelling and medication while the root cause was not investigated. In almost 20 years in private practice as a psychotherapist, I have never met anyone labelled with "depressive disorder", "anxiety disorder", "obsessive compulsive disorder", "schizophrenia", whose symptoms could not be traced to earlier problems in their personal or family background. These people experienced profound relief when it became clear to them that they were not victims of an "illness". Letting go of labels enabled them to be active participants in working towards their emotional and mental well-being. Reform of our mental health services is long overdue, but in its steps towards reform the Health Research Board would be well advised to engage with the progressive school of thinking embraced by psychiatrists such as Dr Sami Timimi who is endeavouring to abolish diagnostic classifications, or Dr Irwin Kirsch, who puts to rest the myth of chemical imbalance, to mention but a few. Otherwise, the labelling continues with drastic implications. Riona Dunlea, MIACP Natural Health Therapy Centre Douglas East Cork

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