It’s fantastic that there is an increasing focus on mental health, and a general positive trend towards ending the stigma, Nonetheless, it is staggering the increasing amount of labels I hear of towards anxiety sufferers! In the past few months, so many clients ‘wear’ a label of some description. I simply have to talk about this…
As an independent Anxiety Consultant, with experience, I am wary of such labels and tend to see beyond them with any client seeking my help. I urge you to take on Mental Health labels either for yourself, or for your children, with caution. Of course, I totally get that when you’re feeling powerless to understand what’s going on, and what to do when anxiety gets a grip, it can seem at times a relief. A label helps to reason behaviour that feels beyond your control.
BEWARE! Anxiety labels can be hard to shake off.
It can stick like mud mentally, emotionally, academically and socially. Defining yourself or others by labels can create serious limitations for you or for your children. In my opinion, psychiatrists over-use labels all too easily these days, for everyday human challenges.
Do you tick the ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’ box?
Labeling not only raises a question as to whether you fit into the ‘normal and healthy box,‘ but it can make others wary of you, and therefore alienate you too. I hope you can see that it is logical that such attitudes can reinforce symptoms of anxiety; this I see so many times! When you believe there is something ‘wrong’ with you, it is much harder to move on from that. At best, you will merely develop coping strategies and stay ‘stuck’ in a place of emotional dis-ease.
Don’t let anxiety labels define you.
PLEASE do not to allow any temporary challenges to be regarded as a permanent aspect of your personality, or a cognitive or physiological malfunctioning. I have found it helps clients to think of any struggle you are dealing with right now, as no more than a temporary ‘wobble’… If you’ve had problems for a while and therapy seems ineffective, perhaps it simply wasn’t the right therapy for you? Maybe you haven’t yet found the right help, or you didn’t connect enough with the therapist? A sound therapeutic relationship is nine tenths of the healing process!
Labels create negative expectation and can lead to blinkered opinions by doctors, teachers, employers, family and friends, let alone strangers. Such limitations on individuals can be hard to break through, especially for women in crisis or teenagers with anxiety. When you hear something often enough, you start to believe it! – And the more you ‘buy into’ a fixed medical condition for yourself or for those close to you.
It’s so important to keep a sense of perspective.
We all wobble, we all grieve inevitably at some point, life is difficult. Even as the most well-adjusted individual, you face challenges, which can knock you sometimes and throw you off balance.
It is vital for any therapist, at whatever level, to provide help from a rounded perspective of the individual’s experiences so far, your relationships and current circumstances. Understanding the individual underneath the symptoms is critical rather than by merely ‘medicalising’ a checklist of presenting symptoms.
According to the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders, as references for Psychiatrists, here are a few examples I’m aware of for some over-medicalised every day experiences.
Childhood temper tantrums – Label “Disruptive Mood Deregulation Disorder.”
Grief – “Major Depressive Disorder.”
Eating to excess four times in a month – Label “Binge Eating Disorder.”
Feeling tearful and unfulfilled – Labeled “Overly Emotional Anxiety Disorder.”
A lack of confidence socially – Label “Anxious Avoidant Social Phobia,” and a similar more general label of “Anxious Avoidant Personality Disorder.”
Nervousness in certain situations – “Phobic Traits Personality Disorder” … the list goes on!
A client experience..
One example, of many of my first-hand experiences that comes to mind, is of a client I helped a year or so back. The lady in question came to see me after regular sessions with two different psychiatrists, without success. She was so frustrated that she yelled and cried through our first 90 minute consultation. My client was described previously by her last psychiatrist as “a particularly unpleasant woman with narcissistic tendencies.“ Yes, she was troubled at the start of therapy. However, with the right help free from any judgement or label of narcissism, she grew to understand herself and heal her emotional pain. She learned to assert herself and re-build key relationships. She successfully created a happier and more balanced life with her husband and her three children.
I don’t dispute that there is a place for some categorizing in cases of severe mental illness. My point here is more in the over-use of such labels for every day emotional challenges. We buy emotion because society makes it too hard for people to be brave enough to own their feelings and speak out so that they may more easily get the help and support they need.
Nobody said life was easy… but you can make it less hard…Give yourself and others a break. Be kind to yourself and to others. Let’s make it ok simply to wobble sometimes. Only then may you and everyone else be honest and open enough to actively seek the help you need to find your way back to balance and bounce back in your life again.
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Lisa Skeffington, Anxiety Expert – Anxiety Help Bournemouth & Ringwood