Timing is Everything
This is going to be reassuring for some of you and make others of you mad. Why some of you are mad is a topic for next time. And it's okay if you're mad at me. I'm not writing this blog to make people happy or make people feel good. I'm writing this blog to tell people the truth. Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss this topic further.
That being said, let's get started.
Mental illnesses are hard to diagnose. There's no scan or test for them. They're all based on what you're feeling and feelings can be hard to interpret.
Here's one thing people often forget: the DSM-V, which outlines the diagnostic criteria for mental illnesses, usually requires symptoms to be present for a certain amount of time. Social anxiety and generalized anxiety require 6 months. Panic disorder requires at least a month of fearing another attack. Depression requires 5 or more of the 8 listed symptoms for at least 2 weeks.
This time frame is often ignored in diagnoses.
As someone with two diagnosed mental illnesses and a good view on the mental health world, I feel like I'm qualified to say this. Mental illness are over-diagnosed. Wildly so. I'm distrusting of doctors who prescribe antidepressants without thinking twice. As I've mentioned before, those are a pain to get off of. You don't want to be on them if you don't have to be.
Here's what I want y'all to keep in mind: you can be depressed and not have depression. You can be anxious and not have anxiety. You can be depressed for a whole month and still not meet the diagnostic criteria. You can be anxious for three months and still not have anxiety, because it hasn't been long enough.
The brain is a sensitive things and all kinds of stuff throws it out of whack. Major life changes can cause seasons of depression and anxiety and that's when most people get diagnosed. But some of these would go away on their own in a few months. Or a little counseling would be enough.
But to immediately assume that someone's brain is thrown off enough to warrant medication is dangerous. I want to make it clear that I'm not against medication; I take it myself. I am against the frequency at which it's prescribed.
Because medication isn't the only treatment and I'd argue that it's often not the best one. Let's think of mental health as a bucket, as I've done before. When the bucket is full, life is bad. A mostly empty bucket is a completely healthy brain. Someone with chronic depression may have an overflowing bucket. Someone going through a season of depression might too. The difference is how hard the bucket is to empty.
The person with chronic depression might be able to empty the bucket a little with therapy, lifestyle changes, journaling, hobbies, etc. But the bucket may still be too full for them to function. SO they take medication, which will initially add to the bucket, but eventually will help.
Someone with a season of depression may find it easier to empty their bucket. Therapy alone might bring it down to a manageable level. Trying medication first is going to make the overflowing bucket worse and convince the person that something is very wrong. And when the medication does work, it might not make that big of a difference. After weeks of waiting to find out, it would have been faster to try a few other things first.
So what am I saying?
If you've been feeling anxious for a few months, feel free to talk to a doctor or see a therapist. But be cautious about a doctor who diagnoses you with anxiety, because that might not be true. Those time frames are there for a reason and the over-diagnosing of mental illness wouldn't be as much of a problem if they were followed.
Next time, we'll visit some ideas related to this. Why people cling to their diagnoses and what that means for their recovery.