The big idea: Is it your personality, or a disorder?

8 months ago 164

It takes astir 30 seconds to diagnose Holden Caulfield. Sixty, maybe, if you look astatine much than 1 website. The unhappy protagonist of The Catcher successful the Rye has post-traumatic accent upset (PTSD), brought connected by the decease of his 13-year-old member respective years earlier the caller begins. The diagnosis explains a lot: the distressing thoughts, the occupation sleeping, his wont of drinking to numb the pain. Other critics accidental helium mightiness person slump instead, oregon an anxiousness disorder, oregon possibly each three. The details don’t really matter. One happening is clear: Caulfield is simply a teen successful request of a diagnosis.

He’s successful bully company. Search the net and you’ll observe that Dorian Gray, it seems, has body dysmorphia. Lady Macbeth, with her incessant handwashing, has obsessive compulsive upset (OCD). King Lear? Bipolar disorder. Even successful the Hundred Acre Wood, location of Winnie-the-Pooh and friends, neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders are rife. Pooh himself has attraction shortage hyperactivity upset (ADHD); Eeyore has depression; and Piglet, with his relentless, uncontrollable worry, is simply a textbook lawsuit of generalised anxiousness disorder.

Today, this is what we do. We look astatine the radical astir us, existent oregon fictional, and we effort to fig retired what it is they have. In the past, this benignant of workout was reserved for those successful utmost distress. Now it is applied much widely. We effort to diagnose radical successful the nationalist oculus (hello, Donald Trump), but besides our friends, household and colleagues. Most importantly, perhaps, we diagnose ourselves.

The presumption don’t adjacent request to beryllium established oregon morganatic concepts. Sexually attracted to intelligent people? You’re sapiosexual. Tendency to enactment up precocious astatine night? That could beryllium a lawsuit of revenge bedtime procrastination.And if you’re struggling successful the aftermath of an affair, there’s a sanction for that too: post-infidelity accent disorder. It doesn’t substance whether these presumption originated from a psychiatrist’s handbook oregon a tweet, each of america present person and are things, intelligence conditions and disorders, things that person names.

There are immoderate bully reasons for this. It’s little intelligence effort, for starters — it’s easier to trust connected pre-existing categories than to effort and recognize someone’s idiosyncratic circumstances. It’s comforting, too, knowing that we’re not alone, that determination has been immoderate humanities precedent to an experience. And labels person power. They tin correspond a designation of the symptom we person been suffering and a awesome to others that we request much help. When it comes to psychiatric oregon neurodevelopmental diagnoses successful particular, a statement tin beryllium – if you’re fortunate – a summons to accessing attraction and support.

Yet this classification wont comes astatine a cost. This isn’t conscionable astir the anticipation of diagnoses exacerbating alternatively than reducing stigma by enhancing a consciousness of otherness. Or the information that having a expected upset tin marque a occupation consciousness more imperishable and harder to fix. This is astir what we suffer erstwhile we trim ourselves to thing excessively elemental – often, to a azygous word. When you usage a statement to picture someone, and that includes yourself, you tin crook a multi-faceted, endlessly analyzable quality into a level stereotype.

These labels were expected to assistance america recognize each different better. Many intelligence wellness campaigns are specifically designed to rise consciousness astir what antithetic disorders truly are, with the extremity of amended knowing the radical who person them. This is important: we bash request to amended consciousness of each kinds of difficulties, and terminology gives america a broad-brush model for knowing a person’s challenges. But if you lone usage labels, if you privilege that level of quality mentation supra describing the individual, past you tin extremity up knowing idiosyncratic less.

“If you’ve met 1 idiosyncratic with autism, you’ve met 1 idiosyncratic with autism,” world and autism advocator Dr Stephen Shore has said, and this is existent of each diagnostic terms. Even erstwhile a information oregon upset importantly shapes a person’s behaviour, it tin inactive lone beryllium 1 portion of the story. When attempting to recognize and picture someone’s character, we request to defy linguistic laziness, and usage afloat sentences and paragraphs to convey who they truly are. There is not a idiosyncratic connected world that tin beryllium adequately captured with a azygous word.

Of people I’m successful favour of raising consciousness of circumstantial disorders, but I privation to rise consciousness of different idea, too: that there’s a wide scope of intelligence colour wrong each of america that cannot beryllium named, that doesn’t request to beryllium diagnosed astatine all.

This volition necessitate a displacement successful thinking. In 2021, diagnostic connection rules – adjacent the wholly unverified assortment recovered connected societal media (for example, TikTok videos connected “high functioning anxiety” are highly popular). There is an unspoken consciousness that unless a occupation has an authoritative sanction it’s not real, oregon not atrocious capable to warrant attraction oregon help. So a recalibration is needed, successful each of us. Something tin beryllium hard without being diagnosed; symptom is nary little valid if it doesn’t person a medical-sounding name; and radical going done an undefinable hard clip inactive merit your help. Arguably, if we defy the terminology and opt for the long-form statement of the occupation instead, we mightiness really beryllium capable to recognize each different better.

And truthful successful fabrication arsenic it is successful existent life. Children don’t emotion Winnie-the-Pooh due to the fact that it’s an age-appropriate instauration to psychiatry. In Shakespeare’s day, audiences didn’t request a diagnostic manual to beryllium moved by his characters, and we inactive don’t today. And The Catcher successful the Rye isn’t 1 of the bestselling novels of each clip due to the fact that it teaches readers astir the grounds checklist for PTSD. Maybe Holden Caulfield does person a intelligence disorder: helium is surely troubled, and needs support. But it takes a full publication – arsenic it should – for america to adjacent statesman to recognize him.

Lucy Foulkes is an honorary lecturer successful science astatine UCL, and writer of Losing Our Minds (Bodley Head).

Further reading

This Book Will Change Your Mind About Mental Health by Nathan Filer (Faber)

Explaining Humans by Camilla Pang (Penguin)

Underneath the Lemon Tree by Mark Rice-Oxley (Abacus)