Does Using Psychiatric Labels Stigmatize The Patient?

Over the last few decades, many criticisms have appeared against the practices that psychiatry was accustomed to carrying out at certain times in its history. For example, the anti-psychiatry movement, promoted by leaders such as RD Laing, denounced overmedication and humiliating treatment of many vulnerable people admitted to mental health centers, as well as an approach that was too biologically focused.

Today psychiatry has improved a lot and the criticism against it has lost a lot of force, but there are still combat fronts. One of them is the idea that psychiatric labels used to diagnose mental disorders are, in fact, stigmatizing, thereby making the problem worse. But… to what extent is that true? Let’s see it.

    Criticisms of psychiatric labels

    These types of attacks directed towards the use of diagnostic labels usually start from two fundamental ideas.

    The first is that mental disorders, in reality, are not anomalies that have an origin in the biological configuration of the person, that is, they are not a fixed characteristic of the person, in the same way that one has a nose of a certain type. shape or hair of a certain color. In any case, These mental problems would be the result of a system of interaction with the environment originated by one or several experiences that marked us in the past. Therefore, using labels is unjustified, because it indicates that the problem lies with the patient as a being isolated from the environment.

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    The second is that, in the current social context, using these names serves to place people in a position of disadvantage and vulnerability, which not only damages personal relationships but also influences the search for work, etc. In some ways, it is criticized that These labels dehumanize those who wear them.passing that person off as just another individual diagnosed with a certain disorder, as if everything they do, feel and think were the result of the disease and their existence was totally interchangeable with that of any person with the same label.

    These two ideas sound reasonable, and it is evident that people with mental disorders suffer clear stigmatization even today. However, everything seems to indicate that it is not the use of these labels that produces this bad image. Let’s see what is known about the subject.

    The influence of diagnostic categories

    To begin with, it is necessary to point out that diagnostic labels are not adjectives, they do not serve to broadly understand what a person is like. In any case, they are theoretical constructs developed by experts that help understand what type of problems the person is most likely to suffer from; Having depression is not the same as having an autistic disorder and, although these categories do not tell us about someone’s personality, they help us know how to intervene to improve quality of life.

    On the other hand, the stigmatization of mental disorders dates back many centuries before the appearance of medicine as we know it, let alone psychiatry. When these applied sciences appeared acted in accordance with this marginalization of minorities with disorders, but this discrimination already existed and is documented in very ancient texts. In fact, during certain stages of history it was believed that the symptoms were manifestations of Satan and that, therefore, the proximity of a mentally disturbed person was dangerous.

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    Beyond this fact, there is no evidence that the quality of life of the diagnosed people has worsened after their visit to the psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.

      Going to the tests

      Is there evidence behind the claim that diagnostic labels are harmful? If there are, they are very weak. For example, David Rosenhan, one of the great critics of this practice in the health field, refused to provide empirically obtained data that demonstrated this when another researcher named Robert Spitzer asked him to do so.

      Years later, a writer named Lauren Slater claimed to have conducted an experiment in which she faked a mental illness and managed to obtain a psychiatric diagnosis. However, she ended up acknowledging that such research did not exist.

      On the other hand, much of the criticism points out that it is very easy to be diagnosed in some psychiatric category, or which one is uncertain. There are cases of people who They fake the symptoms and manage to fool the medical staff, but by stopping the pretense, instead of leaving the medical history as it is, the observation is added that the disorder is on its way to disappearing, something that is very rarely left in writing in cases of real disorder. This fact indicates that doctors are capable, despite the desire to deceive, of distinguishing between severe cases and others in which there is progress towards recovery.

      Therefore, it is better to take advantage of the good side of the tools that good psychiatry offers us, while at the same time we should not confuse ourselves into believing that these labels summarize who we are.

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