Bipolar. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Schizophrenia. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Depression. These are all "labels" given to patients when they meet the requirements of a mental health issue in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM, compiled by the American Psychiatric Association, is essentially the psychological bible of mental illness. It is used by every mental health treatment provider to assign a label to someone's type of illness. The DSM gets updated every so often, and the latest version, DSM 5, was just released in 2013.
I've been thinking about these labels recently, and what they actually mean. Sometimes, I think we can get caught up in them and it can affect how we look at ourselves, and even how we act. Thankfully, I've been able to shake those invisible chains off.
How did I do this? Well, I decided that it was very important to remember that a diagnosis is just a kind of guide, or description, for how best to provide treatment to relieve a set of symptoms. For example, this is really embarrassing to write about, but I will anyway. I struggle with a mild form of compulsive skin picking. I believe that it wasn't in the DSM until version 5. Does that mean that I didn't have CSP? Of course not. I still had it even though it wasn't officially recognized. Sometimes, the editors of the DSM remove or alter a diagnosis. Over the past year, I can remember reading about the hotly debated removal of the category of Asperger's in this most recent DSM. Those who suffer with the symptoms that used to be listed under Asperger's still suffer with the exact same symptoms after publication. They are just categorized differently. Whether that is a good thing or not, well, that is a different story.
These diagnoses (or "descriptions") are fluid and continually changing. In effect, they are a temporary holding catalogue of symptoms, and the catalogue is constantly being refined with each new volume of the DSM. In anxiety disorders, there is a lot of overlap in symptoms. In fact, there is a lot of overlap in symptoms for quite a few conditions, so no wonder that it might be difficult in getting an accurate diagnosis! Ultimately, it really doesn't matter what we are diagnosed with. It only matters that our treatment providers can find a way to help us find healing. It's an imperfect science, and frankly, I think there is a bit of an art form to it. This could explain why some therapists are so much better than others, just like in the case of physical medical doctors.
These thoughts came to me one day after doing some reading on the subject. This seemed to make sense to me, and it even provided a bit of comfort. So what's in a label? Maybe not as much as we think there is!