As a society, we are desperately trying to de-stigmatise mental health; more people are telling their stories and there is a huge push for providing better education. One thing I have noticed is how quick we are to offer out labels and clinical diagnoses without much investigation. A person may exhibit a few symptoms that match a condition and suddenly they are branded with it. As someone who continues to struggle with anxiety, depression and PTSD, I know first-hand how often this occurs and how debilitating it can be – because it happened to me.
We generally assign a label to pretty much everything these days; whether you’re vegetarian or vegan, fat or thin, hipster or goth – there is a category. We feel like we need a label to identify with as it’ll give us a greater understanding of ourselves, which in turn will make us happier; but are we actually better off?
In terms of how society views me, there are a number of labels that can be used to describe me; however, bipolar was one I wasn’t expecting. I have struggled with my mental health for a number of years and have seen therapists and GPs. I was aware I had depression and anxiety; however, the new diagnosis was a shock. I only had one or two symptoms that fit under the bipolar umbrella, but I was diagnosed by a mental health professional so I took their word for it.
From that moment on, I began to describe myself as having bipolar; it became my crutch and an excuse for my out of control behaviour. I became obsessed with researching symptoms, treatment options as well as what my future may hold. However, the more research I did, the more I realised how few of the symptoms I actually had. This quickly became a problem as I had adopted the identity as someone suffering from bipolar, but I felt like a fraud being labelled as such. As a result, I subconsciously began to display symptoms I had never had before (and have never had since). My mental health was spiralling out of control and I was on the verge of ending my own life when I found a psychotherapist. She refused to give me a clinical diagnosis no matter how persistent I was. Instead, we delved into my psyche and began untangling the web of traumas, emotions and insecurities that had (unbeknown to me) been plaguing my mind for years. My disconnection between myself and my mind was so profound that I couldn’t even recognise basic emotions I was feeling.
As time went on, we both agreed I had depression, anxiety and PTSD but I actually wasn’t bipolar. After nearly two years of confronting my demons, I became to understand myself in a way I never had before. I developed coping mechanisms, I began to recognise my own triggers and I no longer felt compelled to identify with any disorder. I don’t define myself by my mental struggles, I describe myself as Paige; quirky, uncoordinated and a raging nerd – I don’t need anything else. So I present the question; does it benefit our mental health and well-being by being given a category? Does this inherent need to define ourselves in a universally understood way bring greater meaning to our lives? For me, breaking away from the label I had needlessly been assigned genuinely saved my life and I cannot thank my therapist enough.
It makes me wonder how many people out there are in the same boat I was. We are quick to assume misbehaved children have ADHD and slow readers have dyslexia – and we are quick to tell them. There is a great focus on diagnosing problems as opposed to resolving them. Where do we draw the line between those who need diagnosing and those who just need a nudge? We hand out these diagnoses to children and young adults like sweets on Halloween but does it always benefit them in the long run? What is the long-term mental impact of doing this? All of this also applies to all categories, not just mental health.
I guess those are questions for another day.
Paige Lindsey is a freelance writer and a mental health advocate.
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