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Reframing Minds: Challenging Mental Health Stereotypes

During my growing up years, a disruptive child was exactly that: disruptive, unruly, a candidate for the naughty corner. Children who seem shy, or quiet, or sad were exactly that: shy, introvert going through a temporary phase with nothing to worry about. Today, we are alert to the possibility that such behaviors may reflect mental health problems of one sort or another, some dysfunction that needs a medical intervention! The disruptive child could be diagnosed as ADHD, the withdrawn teenager as depressed or any of a wide variety of mental health problems. We have become too quick to compartmentalize situations and behaviors.

The driving concern that fuels this trend is the broader definition of mental illness in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Because of the new diagnostic criteria and additional behaviors listed as indicative of mental illness in the DSM,

diagnosis is consequently often a tricky, somewhat questionable affair. The borderline between the normal and the abnormal is extremely fuzzy. There is the danger that too many children could be viewed as having mental disorders because of which we “medicalize” what is actually in the normal range. By medicalizing the normal we may be subjecting children and adolescents to inappropriate and ineffective interventions. We may also be inadvertently undermining powerful resources for mental health. For example, recent research suggests that when we “medicalize” normality we create a conceptual framework that is counter-productive in various ways.

We have long known that labels have the potential to be damaging. Even in our enlightened times, an individual labelled as having a mental health problem is perceived and treated differently, in ways that may entrench the problem rather than alleviating it. Believing that your troubles reflect a disorder that needs medical treatment can disempower, undercutting the normal processes through which we develop resilience to, and recovery from setbacks – which is what we all need to handle any situation in life!

As a therapist working with teenagers, I notice an upward trend in children struggling to distinguish between teenage trials and true medical diagnoses and landing up self-diagnosing mental health issues. Boxing themselves in with self-labels, takes away the power from them to handle difficult situations making them feel frustrated and hopeless.

Time to discard the labels that kept you back from reaching your full potential. All you need is the belief that you have all the resources within yourself to solve problems and effect change!

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