Friday, 2 March 2007

A Morality of Madness

Before 1974, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) listed homosexuality as a mental disorder. The psychiatrists who collated the book, considerd it a disease, complete with symptomology. Something that could be diagnosed, treat and cured.

Things of course, have moved on. Now in its fourth iteration, DSM IV no longer lists homosexuality as a disorder. It does however, list the following; Fetishism, Gender Identity Disorder, Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (not Hyperactive), Kleptomania, Voyeurism, and my personal favourite - Frotterurism. This is a sexual 'disorder' involving rubbing against another person to achieve sexual arousal or even orgasm, discreetly and without being discovered, typically in a public place.

It strikes me that a diagnosis of the above requires as much moral judgement on the part of the Psychiatrist as it does clinical expertise.

It dosen't stop with sexual deviancy either. It gets into the meat and bones of our identities. 'Schizoid Personality Disorder' for example, presents in the following manner;


A pervasive pattern of detachment from social relationships and a restricted range of expression of emotions in interpersonal settings, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:
  1. neither desires nor enjoys close relationships, including being part of a family
  2. almost always chooses solitary activities
  3. has little, if any, interest in having sexual experiences with another person
  4. takes pleasure in few, if any, activities
  5. lacks close friends or confidants other than first-degree relatives
  6. appears indifferent to the praise or criticism of others
  7. shows emotional coldness, detachment, or flattened affectivity
Other than sexual indifference, this sounds like a good few teenagers that I know. Should we be thinking of adolescence as a disorder then?

I wonder if the authors of DSM IV understood the awesome power of words. The power of labels. A tag beggining with Schizo, affixed to a young person, can ruin their life. For some, it's a death sentence. Words can indeed kill.

What's this got to do with spirituality then?

Well, for all its quantitative posturings, Psychiatry remains an art, not a science. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. And art of course, is a metaphorical exploration of the human condition. An exploration of human spirit.

The DSM IV manual comes with a health warning - The application of these diagnostic criteria must only be made by people with the appropriate training and expertise.

Perhaps, if DSM IV was written in Latin, the judgements Psychiatry makes about people would be accepted even more as an absolute moral authority.

Countless copies of DSM IV have been made over the years. Rather than on a printing press, I imagine hundreds of aspiring psychiatrists, hunched over desks, lit by candle light carefully copying the DSM criteria onto parchment.

More on this another night.

Want to know more right now? You could do no worse than starting with Thomas Szasz.

11 comments:

Holly said...

Grrr. I had a long comment written, and then Blogger ate it. I feel a bit of madness coming on, myself.

Basically, I was thanking you for this post, as this is a concern I have had for a while - first as a "problem child" as a teen, and then as a teacher of university aged Health Studies students who thought that pregnancy, aging and menstruation were illnesses, rather than natural processes. Pharmaceutical companies have a lot of explaining to do.

While I agree that the construction of deviance is morality in disguise (which is now also leading to smoking being slowly made into a mental health issue), it is also interesting to see that religion and spirituality itself has now started to take on a "mentally ill" profile. It appears that anything that makes people leave the mall is now an illness.

Szasz was a mind opener for me, as was Foucault's history of madness.

Now let's hope this one posts...

Louie said...

Hey Jamon.

I say anyone who believes what's in DSM deserves to be diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder.

Hmm, that was rather a mouthful! :)

jamon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jamon said...

Hi Holly,

DSM V is due for completion in 2011. I wonder if religious belief will be a category.

As it happens, this was going to be a following post. So, rather then spill the beans now, I'll give my befuddled brain a little while to think.

Louie,

You're right, though you have slightly misdiagnosed the disorder. I think you'll find it's Dissociative Fugue ;-).

That said, many of the DSM lables are in common use. You seen many care coordination assessments?

Louie said...

DID used to be called multiple personality disorder... :)

jamon said...

That's what I keep telling myself I've got. I won't listen though.

jamon said...

It's the way I tell 'em

Louie said...

Mental is as mental does!

jamon said...

And mental I sure am

stuart said...

As with many (all?) things in life, the middle ground seems to be the only place where sanity reigns. It does not take long to find links from Szasz to the Citizens Commission on Human Rights
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_Commission_on_Human_Rights
A seriously scary bunch of people, most of whome should probably be institutionalised for the sake of safety to the general public.

jamon said...

Stu - an odd collaboration indeed. Szasz is openly critical of scientology. Why he would pose for a photo with the diminutive nut job extrodinaire I don't know.