This is a personal message to those of you whose emotional wellbeing and quality of life are impacted by a ‘mental’ disorder. I write as someone who knows what you are going through, and who understands the system. I have dealt with social anxiety disorder throughout my life. I have spent the last 16 years researching and developing methods to alleviate the impact of mental dysfunctions. I know the disease model of mental health has been ineffective and demeaning, and I emphasize the importance of adopting a Wellness Model that treats you with dignity and appreciation for your abilities and potential.
You are not alone.
- 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 6 children (ages 6-17) have a diagnosable mental illness.
- 20 million adults and 5 million adolescents experience mild to major depression.
- Anxiety disorders impact 45 million adults and 13 million adolescents .
- 60% of those have both anxiety and depression. Substance abuse is often comorbid.
- The estimated rate of infection for minorities is 1.5-2.5 times higher.
- Anxiety and depression are the primary causes of the 56% increase in adolescent suicide over the last decade.
- Sexual and gender-based adolescents are almost five times more likely to attempt suicide.
There are four essential facts I want you to recognize.
Number 1: You are not abnormal. A disorder, or what they used to call a neurosis, is a common part of natural human development. Mental health professionals have a saying. Question: Why do 26% of American adults have a diagnosable mental disorder? Answer: Because the other 74% haven’t been tested. Scientific American speculates that mental disorders are so common, almost everyone will develop at least one diagnosable disorder at some point in their life. It is, simply, a condition that negatively impacts your emotional wellbeing and quality of life.
Number 2: It is not your fault. You were infected, most likely, during your childhood. In the rare event onset happened later in life, the susceptibility originated in your childhood. The infection is a consequence of some physical, emotional, or sexual disturbance. It could be hereditary, environmental, or the result of trauma. Any number of things could have caused it. Perhaps your parents were controlling or did not provide emotional validation. Perhaps you were bullied, or you are from a broken home. It is never your fault and it may be no one’s fault.
Number 3: Forget what you have been told. You have been negatively informed by the disease model of mental health, and influenced by mental health stigma. The disease model focuses on diagnosis, deficit, and denigration. Through its diagnostic process, you cease to be an individual and become your disorder. The Wellness Model emphasizes your character strengths and virtues that generate the motivation, persistence, and perseverance to recover.
You are not ‘mental.’ Not only is the description inaccurate, it promotes hostile perceptions of incompetence, unworthiness, and undesirability. It is the dominant source of stigma, shame, and self-loathing. It feeds the pervasive public stereotype of the dangerous and unpredictable, deranged person who should be isolated in an institution.
They once thought mental illness was demonic possession. They blamed it on the moon, sorcery, witchcraft, and bodily fluids. In the early 20th century, it was your cellular structure. The biological approach says it is in your brain; the pharmacological approach pushes drugs to balance your chemistry and hormones. The fact is that simultaneous mutual interaction of your human system components is required for sustainability of life and your disorder.
Your dysfunction is not ‘mental,’ biologic, hygienic, neurochemical, or psychogenic, but all of these things facilitated by all your human system components – your mind, body, spirit, and emotions working in concert. Realistically, we cannot eliminate the word ‘mental’ from the culture. The disease model’s guide for 70 years is called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. So, we have to change the common perception of the word. The Wellness Model’s primary objective is the reformation of language, power structure, and perspective throughout the mental healthcare community and beyond.
And finally, number 4: You deserve better ― from the ‘mental’ healthcare industry, your doctor, family, peers, media, and community. ‘Mental’ illness is a stigma, formed by ignorance, prejudice, and discrimination. It is supported by public opinion, family rejection, a misinformed community, media misrepresentation, and the disease model of mental health. No wonder so many avoid treatment, reject diagnosis, or refuse to disclose their condition.
General public opinion considers you dangerous, unpredictable, and socially undesirable.
37% of family members hide their relationship with their child or sibling in order to avoid bringing shame to the family. Many disordered are family undesirable, a devaluation more life-limiting, and disabling than the illness itself.
The media stereotypes you as a hysterical, unpredictable, and dangerous schizophrenic. Half of news stories on ‘mental’ illness allude to violence. You are either a homicidal maniac, an emotionally challenged childlike prodigy, or a rebellious, hair-brained, free spirit.
Healthcare professionals are often undertrained, misinformed, and inflexible. You know how your disorder impacts your emotional wellbeing and quality of life far better than your doctor. Clinicians deal with 31 similar and comorbid disorders, over 400 schools of psychotherapy, multiple treatment programs, and a constantly evolving plethora of medications, but they do not know the personal impact of your disorder.
The mental healthcare community is drowning in pessimism. There is evidence to indicate the problem is endemic in the medical health community, and universally systematic, which means that it impacts you personally, and the disease model is the culprit. Clients report instances where staff members are inordinately rude or dismissive. Complaints include coercive measures, excessive wait-times, paternalistic or demeaning attitudes, one-size-fits-all treatment programs, medications with undesirable side-effects, stigmatizing language, and general therapeutic pessimism.
The etiology-driven, disease model defines you as incapable, deceitful, unempathetic, manipulative, difficult, irresponsible, and incompetent. These descriptions are straight from the manual. This ‘defective’ emphasis has been the overriding psychiatric perspective for over a century. By the 1952 publication of the first DSM, the focus had drifted from pathology (the science of the causes and effects of diseases) to pathography (the breakdown of an individual’s problems, categorizing them to facilitate diagnosis). Pathography focuses on a deficit, disease model of human behavior, Which disorder poses the most threat? What behaviors contribute to the disorder? Are you contagious? What sort of person has a mental illness? It is these attributions that form your self-beliefs and image.
To iterate, the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes 31 dysfunctions. Most share symptomatology and are comorbid. Estimates show that 60% of those with anxiety also have symptoms of depression, and both are comorbid with substance-abuse. The following are closely related to or comorbid with social anxiety: major depression, panic disorder, alcohol abuse, PTSD, avoidant personality disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders, schizophrenia, ADHD, and agoraphobia.
Diagnostic criteria change dramatically from one edition to the next. Causes and symptoms are added, removed, and rewritten without evidence that the new approach is better than the prior one. Researchers cite substantial discrepancies and variation in definition, epidemiology, assessment, and treatment. One clinic reports that 8.2% of their clients had generalized anxiety; 0.5% were correctly diagnosed. A study of 67 clinics reported that 76.4% of social anxiety clients were improperly diagnosed.
That is why the Wellness Model focuses on the individual over the diagnosis. The disease model focuses on the diagnosis. The Wellness Model emphasis your character strengths and attributes that generate the motivation, persistence, and perseverance to recover. A battle is not won by focusing on incompetence and weakness; it is won by knowing and utilizing our strengths, and attributes. That is how we recover―with pride and self-reliance and determination―with the awareness of what we are capable.
Recoveryis an individual process. There is no one right way to do or experience recovery. You are not toasters, mass-produced in a factory. You have unique DNA. There has never been a single human being with your sensibilities, memories, and abilities. Your personality is comprised of distinct phenomena generated by everything experienced in your lifetime. It formed itself by core-beliefs and developed through social, cultural, and environmental experiences. It is your current being and the expression of that being―your inimitable way of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
One-size-fits-all approaches have never been able to address the complexity of your individual personality. Any evaluation and treatment program must comprehensively address your individual complexity. Recovery programs must be innovative, fluid, and targeted.
Clinicians must assimilate your culture and earn your trust. They do not have to become you; they must attempt to understand your culture in order to relate to you. An LGBTQ+ person will not be served well by a fundamentalist Baptist psychotherapist. Any clinician or program must consider your environment, history, and autobiography in conjunction with your wants, needs, and aspirations.
You deserve to be treated with dignity, and appreciation.
Your dysfunction has impacted your life since childhood; recovery is a long-term commitment. The Wellness Model creates the blueprint then guides teaches and supports you throughout the process of recovery, but you must do the work. The Wellness Model helps you reengage your intrinsic character strengths and attributes that generate the motivation and persistence and perseverance to recover.
Any suggestion of undesirability is a devaluation more life-limiting and disabling than the illness itself. You deserve to be treated with dignity and appreciation.