Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Mental Health Labels

Recently, I have found myself thinking more and more about mental health labels and being given a diagnosis. At this current moment in time, 'Anorexia Nervosa' is not something I want or like. It is a label that I desperate to get rid of. It would mean I am healthy and free to live a life without being held back by anxiety or rules.
However, I know this isn't always the case. When first diagnosed with this illness, part of me was elated. It felt like I'd achieved something and I could be proud of it. I was special because I didn't need food and I could easily dismiss it - something in which 'normal' people find very difficult to do.
Similarly, with depression, I was proud that I'd achieved this new label and status. It gave me an excuse for my low mood and subsequent behaviours. 
But, now that I'm a long way into recovery, my view on labeling is changing some what. Looking back, I used my illness to my advantage. Yes, it was a good reason for certain things, but not everything. It was very easy to me to say 'oh, I'm staying in bed today because I have depression' when actually, I'm just being lazy and can't be bothered to go to maths. I have done it with my eating disorder too - 'I'm not going out tonight because I'm anorexic' is too commonly used as the place I'm invited too may not even involve food or drink. I think we have to be very careful when we use our illness as an excuse and not the real reason.
I also think we have to be very careful when giving someone a mental health diagnosis. Don't get me wrong, receiving one can be comforting and can explain why your thoughts and behaviour is irrational but in some cases it may encourage the illness. I have often felt as though I can't do something because I have this diagnosis, and it's not what people would expect from me. I mean, I eat pizza and chocolate, but how can I be anorexic and do that? From an outsiders point of view, I know how confusing that can look. Therefore, it's very easy for me to avoid certain foods or places because it doesn't 'look' right. In other words, I play up to my label.
As I have mentioned above, I am now in a place where I no longer want this label. I am not proud of it and can see now that it's not something to cling onto or feel safe by. Mental illnesses or dangerous and unfortunately, still very stigmatised. Other labels that people may receive are 'crazy', 'mental', 'insane'. These labels are quite possibly the worst kind and as soon as you have a diagnosis, you then have to prepare yourself for these too.

I am actually interested in what you think mental health diagnoses and labels in general. Should be labeling things so easily?


hannah said...

I think labeling things is a tricky task, there are so many different labels people use and some people don't fit into the exact conventions of a label. I think it's important for those with mental health issues to recognise the issue, and for others to be able to recognise it too, and in that way labels are good because it means everyone involved sort of knows what to expect and how to go about dealing with it or changing it. I don't think it's right for people who don't have mental health issues to give unnecessary labels to those that do, we should be supportive of anyone who needs support and not worsen a condition by adding fuel to the fire. I hadn't ever thought of it from this perspective before, about how you might feel defined by your label of anorexia and therefore not feel able to do certain things. I hope that eventually it won't be your first thought, perhaps it won't be something you have to think of at all :) xxx

Tanya Beetham said...

What you've written here is one of the many reasons why in my opinion, pathologizing people and essentially labeling them can be potentially dangerous and invalidating for people, especially those with a mental illness such as the ones you've mentioned (ED and depression). It becomes a question of identity for someone vulnerable enough already without throwing another identity out there for them to relate to, and in some cases, succumb to.
I think that if we treat the diagnosis and not the human being, we are neglecting the very thing behind the illness and through that, we are reinforcing all the negative self worth thoughts a person might have because we are only seeing the illness and not the person.
Diagnoses serve a purpose of course - but they are to be dished out with great caution. And it goes without saying that the DSM was only introduced due to the ICD recognizing mental health as well as physical health, and the world health organisation therefore needing a thorough means of classification and a diagnostic criteria. Which therefore means that we put symptoms in boxes and 'label' people... And then people can only access treatment once they are 'labelled'.
Now rant over ;)

Josie said...

That's the trouble with society, we love a label! Straight/gay, popular/loner etc etc. Us humans are way too complex to be put in a box! It's not nice how a diagnosis can make you feel like that's what defines you because you're so much more. I think that mental health is especially tricky to diagnose because I don't think any two people that suffer from it are the same...it's a very personal thing, so people are going to need different treatment etc even if they've been diagnosed as having the same illness.

If it helps I don't think of you as 'Sam the girl with anorexia' I think of you as Sam who is so, so kind, supportive and wise (and who likes Jack Wills haha!) Like Hannah said, I hope one day you'll not have those thoughts because you deserve to be super happy! xxx

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