Mental disorders diagnosed and medicated too often

Afik Zaarur, Contributing Writer

If you live in America there is a high chance you know someone who suffers from depression; one in five people in America have severe depression. It was hardly like this 20 years ago, when only one in every 184 people were clinically depressed.

During the last few years there has been an increase in the number of people that have been diagnosed with mental illnesses and the number of people using antipsychotic medications. Using psychiatric medication unnecessarily presents a major problem, as its side effects could actually lead people to develop mental illnesses that were not previously present. Medications like Adderall have been linked to mood swings and depression, as have selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is used universally throughout the country to categorize mental illnesses. The fifth edition of the DSM was re-released in 2013 with a noticeable uptake in various mental health issues that have become more broad with time.

In the DSM, there is a list of 10 symptoms for depression. If the patient categorizes themselves under at least five of them, they are said to have severe depression. Minor depression is diagnosed by only three symptoms, thus making it easy to characterize someone with the illness.

While it is very hard to check if mental illnesses are overdiagnosed or not, there is research backing the idea that they are. It was shown that 17 percent of kids diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder did not match the diagnosis criteria.

There are many factors that cause doctors to misdiagnose mental disorders. The main factor is that the diagnosis depends on the patient’s description of his mental status. This information is prone to bias and somewhat arbitrary. A scenario where a patient might get misdiagnosed could be, for example, a student in the start of their senior year. The stress of school and college applications has built up. This patient is in the doctor’s office, not exactly sure what to make of their emotional state. They would be asked to identify their feelings with the symptoms the DSM-5 created. The doctor could read out the ten symptoms and the patient would easily identify with many. Does this mean that this senior is someone with clinical anxiety? Are they suffering from a societal issue that we should adjust, or a chemical imbalance in the brain?

We need to make the DSM less broad, and mental health professionals should be less casual in diagnosing mental illnesses and prescribing drugs. Not every diagnosed patient needs medication, and we must be aware of the dangers in over-distributing unnecessary antipsychotic drugs.