Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Personal Reflection on Classifying Disorders in the upcoming DSM

There's a bit of a debate in the mental health arena right now... and it's likely to become more intense as the publication of the DSM Fifth Edition nears. 
Scheduled to be published in May 2013, the DSM is the short name for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental DisordersIt includes all types of mental health disorders, including many of the illnesses covered in Erasing the Distance trainings and performances including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and more.

People have a variety of interests and opinions on the DSM.  This media release from the Journal of Mental Health -- fairly balanced compared to some of the more inflammatory articles I've seen -- brings up some of the different perspectives people hold regarding classifying disorders in the DSM.  
For example, does including a disorder in the DSM legitimatize the experiences of those that live with it, or does it create a negative and unwanted stigma that those who suffer from the "disorder" would rather avoid?  It raises the questions of what is normal?  What is a disorder?  

A new part of the upcoming edition of the DSM will be the inclusion of essays by well-known personalities on their personal experiences with a mental disorder.  Since Erasing the Distance is all about real people's real stories, this perked my interest.  Here's a sample of one of the personal stories cited in the release: 

 "It seems that when you have cancer you are a brave battler against the disease, but when you have Alzheimer's you are an old fart," continues Pratchett. "That's how people see you. It makes you feel quite alone."
Exactly, Mr. Pratchett.  There is still so much stigma surrounding mental illnesses.  That is why Erasing the Distance's work is so powerful.  People see that they are not alone, and see the real stories and robust experiences that go so much further than a classification in a textbook.

So there is a difference of opinion as to: is it empowering or dis-empowering for your condition to be classified in the DSM? I don't think there is one answer.  But I do believe that Erasing the Distance helps break down that stigma that some people find inherent in a "disorder."  When audiences see Erasing the Distance perform, I watch the light bulbs go off.  We breathe life into the often frightening, misunderstood subjects of mental illness. Because people can relate to what they see on stage, their preconceptions are challenged. 


I watch as audience's react and share during the post-show discussion, and its amazing to see as stereotypes transform into something much more complex and real -- and more than a definition in a textbook can contain.  And so our work to generate compassion and understanding about mental illness continues.


Thanks for reading! If you have any comments, I'd love to hear from you. Write hear, join us on Facebook, or email oriana (at) erasingthedistance.org.


Wishing you a healthy day,
~ Oriana at Erasing the Distance

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