by Vladimir Gladkov
The government report released on Thursday and dedicated to the problem of mental health of Americans demonstrated disturbing results. As Reuters reports, according to the survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration one of five adults in America suffered mental illnesses in the past year. Considering the survey’s conclusion that among the most vulnerable to mental illness are the unemployed, young adults and people with the low income, it is tempting to connect the problem with the collapse of the American economy. At the same time, it is important to pay attention to the definition of mental disorder, used by the American health industry. Numerous experts question the reliability of the currently used version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) – the criteria for the classification of mental illness.
At first sight, the picture shown by the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health looks more than alarming. According to the report, mental disorder is a common problem for Americans, since 20 percent of American adults suffer some sort of disorder each year, and about 5 percent experience mental problems of such a scale that it disrupts their professional or social life. At the same time less than half of the people with any mental problems and only 60 percent of those suffering from the most disabling one – receive medical treatment each year.
The report is based on interviews with nearly 68,500 randomly selected citizens. It is important to mention that the survey didn’t include the homeless, prisoners and the representatives of other groups with the highest risk of experiencing mental problems.
Since the report demonstrated that women, young adults and people with the low-income are the most vulnerable to the threat of mental disorder, it is easy to link the growing problem with the current state of the American economy. The listed groups suffer the most from economic problems and the collapsing housing market, escalating unemployment and the inability to pay the enormous debts may easily cause the mental problems, including developing depressions.
At the same time many analysts question the validity of the currently used survey for mental illness. The criticism of DSM – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, has been voiced before. For example in 2005 the study conducted by Harvard University and the National Institute of Mental Health stated that 46 percents of Americans will develop a mental disorder. While some experts were desperately arguing over the reasons of the problem, the critics questioned the definition of mental illness, claiming that DSM’s classification of mental disorders is too wide and many conditions such as adjustment disorder, passive-aggressive disorder and female sexual arousal disorder could hardly be considered serious problems. According to the opponents of the DSM, the measure even put those in a real need of medical treatment in extreme danger.
“When you say we’re going to provide mental health treatment to everyone, then the severely mentally ill usually get the lowest priority,” said Dr. Richard Lamb,professor of Psychiatry at the University of Southern California.
The tendency to classify any human flaw as a type of mental disorder which requires some serious medication is profitable for pharmaceutical companies but fatal for the nation. The most vivid example is a tactic to treat children diagnosed with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as mental patients in need of medication and counseling.
Daniel J. Carlat, a Massachusetts psychiatrist, delivered strong criticism of American psychiatry’s overreliance on prescription drugs, claiming “that there is a kind of alarmist quality to these reports.” “There is a stigma about ‘mental illness’ that as soon as you hear the term people assume that it’s something quite severe. The nuances of this type of data tend to be lost on people,” said Carlat.