“There is always some madness in love. But there is also some reason in madness”
A recent article in the New York Times documented one woman's transformation of self and identity while living with bipolar I disorder. Her experience navigating through the mental health delivery system in the United States brings to light the culturally embedded beliefs about what it means to be mentally ill or mentally healthy. She discusses how losing her sense of identity and sense of self was overlooked in the treatment process. For many clinicians, mental and emotional challenges are considered medical problems to be treated soley by focusing on the symptoms of an illness rather than a client's lived experience.....
We all know, in some capacity, what it is like to feel ourselves slipping away. Each of us has a sense of losing ourselves to something more powerful. Perhaps it is in the way in which we fall madly in love. Maybe it's the intensity of passionately diving into some kind of creative process. It is particularly common to slip from logic and emotional regulation and into "madness" when experiencing the grief and loss of a loved one. And there are some of us who experience a more chronic form of instability and loss. It is a loss of self that sends them spiraling into an abyss of confusion, saddness and depression. They mourn for themselves and the person they were before being diagnosed "mentally ill."
The bible of the mental health community, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), appears to have the ultimate word on how far we can slip or how much of ourselves we can lose before we are labled with a diagnosable mental illness. People experiencing mental illness are commonly confronted with permeating problems that go beyond mental illness itself. Challenges with social inclusion and stigmatizing attitudes create profound barriers for these individuals. Towering above mental illness is the the pervasiveness of discrimination. The DSM gives a clear list of criteria that one must meet in order to be diagnosed with a mental illness. "To label or not to label?" That is the question every mental health professional must ask themselves before diagnosing someone, especially someone experiencing pervasive mental or emtional circumstances.
It appears that many of the approaches used in the managed care system do little to address mental health. There is an exhaustive focus on the miserable without clearly defining what constitutes happiness and well-adjustment. The importance of being genuinely seen and truly heard cannot be underestimated. A person who has never been heard will have great difficulty building trust. People experiencing mental and emotional struggles-—now more than ever—need professionals who see the therapeutic value of love, hope, and laughter. There is honor in exploring new visions to counter the systematic barriers that encourage professionals to acknowledge illness first and person second.
If the goal of a diagnosis is truly to help clients heal, then it is vital to act meaningfully and with integrity in the face of acknowledged vulnerability.
There is little healing where a client's sense of self and identity are denied.