By Janet Albrechtsen
March 3, 2010
MEDICAL advances can take your breath away. Over the past decade, medical experts have started decoding the human genome to provide genetically-personalised medicine.
The experts behind these advances are geniuses. Perhaps in the same vein, the psychiatric profession imagines that their new bible of mental disorders — more than 10 years in the making — will be hailed as milestone of medical achievement. If so, they’d be wrong.
Released last month as a draft, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is a depressing testament to the medicalisation of modern society where every deviation from what is deemed normal behaviour is labelled as a mental disorder.
Known colloquially as DSM 5, the manual routinely used worldwide as the diagnostic tool for mental disorders is proposing to add a range of new mental disorders to the mushrooming list of existing ones. Your house is getting cluttered because you can’t bring yourself to throw anything away? Perhaps you have hoarding disorder. Having trouble with maths? Maybe you have mathematics disorder or discalculia as the experts call it. You’re approaching 70 and not remembering things like you used to? We call it ageing. The American Psychiatric Association wants to call it minor neurocognitive disorder. Your seven-year-old child is having frequent temper tantrums? Put it down to temper dysfunctional disorder with dysphoria.
Do you spend a “great deal of time” consumed by sexual fantasies? Using sex to deal with a stressful life? Having too much sex? We might say good luck to you. What is too much sex anyway? The experts know and they call it hypersexual disorder. Hence Tiger Woods was in a medical clinic apparently being cured of his sexual attraction to strippers.
When you lost someone you loved, did you grieve for longer than deemed normal? DSM 5 wants to medicalise that, too. How does society decide what is normal grieving and what is not? How can experts measure the depth of a love that may explain the intensity of the grief? Death and grief — like life and love — are deeply personal experiences beyond the realm of something called normal behaviour.