PHOTO: Katarina Wolnik Vera
Text:Nicoleta Casangiu and Alejandra Misiolek
After the numbers of people diagnosed with a mental disorder increased alarmingly and disproportionately in the last decade, especially in the United States, Canada and some European countries, overdiagnosis has been reviewed especially in Mood Disorders in adulthood, in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in childhood, and in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the same stage of development.
Clinical diagnoses are a fundamental tool for communication between the person and the professional and also between different health professionals.
When we talk about mental health, to receive a diagnosis and to put a name to the suffering allows the person to understand what happens to them or produces their suffering and, therefore, will allow them to adhere to a treatment and to specific self-care guidelines.
However, it is a double-edged sword not to consider the effect that diagnoses have on those who receive them.
Receiving a diagnosis, a “label”, can have the exact opposite effect. That is, people become complacent in their suffering and unhealthy ways of proceeding because their diagnostic label justifies and exempts them from both responsibility and confidence in being able to change their situation. In these cases, active attempts to overcome, to redress the situation, to learn and mature become even more difficult. They can also be relegated due to the role of illness that a diagnosis confers and can make the person dependent on third parties, be they family members and/or professionals.
Another negative consequence can be a reluctance to seek help. The fact that certain psychological disorders are associated with certain negative beliefs makes it difficult to ask for help when it is really needed.
Psychological disorders often affect the functioning of the person, with repercussions at work and academic level, and the person may encounter difficulties in accessing employment and housing due to difficulties in integrating and accessing basic services. Stigma towards a person with a diagnosis can also affect their immediate environment such as family, friends or work colleagues.
One of the most obvious consequences of the existence of stigma in some psychological disorders is self-stigma and is considered one of the most serious consequences. It refers to the acceptance by a person with a mental disorder of negative prejudices by society. This leads to negative effects such as lower self-esteem, lower expectations of self-efficacy, which have a very negative impact on the quality of life, help-seeking and the recovery process.
For this reason, the experts stress the responsibility of mental health professionals when making excessively lax interpretations in the diagnosis of mental disorders, as well as the need to first try to intervene in the environment before making a diagnosis, analyzing the relational sphere and taking into account the consequences that may arise from receiving a diagnosis.
We also want to advocate for not reducing people to labels and to promote a change from a more inward-looking perspective and with the help of a mental health professional, analyzing in more depth that behind a “diagnosis” there is a person with a personal history, in a social and family environment.
- García Peñas, J. J. y Domínguez Carral, J. (2012). ¿Existe un sobrediagnóstico del trastorno de déficit de atención e hiperactividad (TDAH)?. Evidencias en Pediatría, 8(3): 1-5.
- Pedersen, D. (2005). Estigma y exclusión social en las enfermedades mentales: apuntes para el análisis e investigación. Acta Psiquiátrica y Psicológica de América Latina, 55(1), 39-50.