The world’s authoritative text on mental health is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Updated by psychiatrists since the 1950s, it lists all the ways in which humans can be nuts, and therefore features many big words and several photographs of Gary Busey.
The book—known among mental health professionals as the DSM, because that’s quicker to say than Big Book of Crazy—is currently being revised and expanded by the American Psychiatric Association. Eight new mental illnesses are being considered for inclusion in the next edition. This is very controversial, and not just because marrying Sean Penn isn’t one of them.
According to reports, the up-and-coming disorders vying to make the cut are:
Sex Addiction: Defined as “a pattern of repeated sexual relationships involving a succession of lovers who are experienced by the individual only as things to be used,” this disorder would classify as mentally ill several former U.S. presidents, all former Backstreet Boys and every man ever featured in a Coors Light commercial.
Binge Eating: This is described by psychiatrists as “a serious disorder in which you frequently consume unusually large amounts of food.” Statistics indicate this “illness” afflicts one out of every one Kirstie Alley.
Pathological Hoarding: Long considered a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder, hoarding is on its way to being its very own syndrome. Sufferers just can’t let go. Think of old people with stacks of magazines from 1942 or Stephen Harper with power.
Internet Addiction: According to the APA, this addiction “consists of at least three subtypes: excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations and email/text messaging.” This raises a number of questions, such as how the APA gained access to my browser history.
And the list goes on. Do you go shopping a lot? You have a mental disorder. Are you “pathologically” biased in your views? You have a mental disorder. Are huge quantities of food disappearing from your fridge at night? You have a mental disorder—or Rosie O’Donnell as a house guest. Either way, you’re deeply troubled.
If some psychiatrists get their way, there will be yet one more affliction added: being bitter. Apparently, bitterness is not just a feeling we all have at some point—it’s a mental illness! Begin fitting Andy Rooney, Rush Limbaugh and Squidward for straitjackets—they’re all loco. So are Billy Bob Thornton, Jennifer Aniston and every person in the world after three beers.
Under proposed changes, the state of being bitter will be officially classified as post-traumatic embitterment disorder. One news story quoted the German psychiatrist who named the affliction as saying of its sufferers, “It’s one step more complex than anger. They’re angry plus helpless.” Angry plus helpless? In North America we refer to that condition as “looking at our RRSP statement.”
Enough already. Bitterness is the birthright of every citizen and the default state of every Baldwin. It’s a sign that we are alert and awake to the variety of ways in which our world is conspiring against us. I ask the American Psychiatric Association: if being consumed by a sense of injustice is wrong, why did God invent blogs and ulcers?
I suppose it could be argued that psychiatrists are just keeping up with the times. The 21st century is all about feeling special. We’re buoyed by people following our bursts of adjectives and emoticons on Twitter. Our kids are handed Olympic-calibre medals for finishing a 2K fun run. People as special as us can’t just be weird or unwilling to exercise self-restraint—we have to be ill.
Yesterday’s bad habit is today’s mental disorder. And today’s mental disorder is tomorrow’s pharmaceutical solution. It’s a good bet that by the time the new DSM is published in 2012, drug companies will have created new pills for these new disorders, complete with new side effects involving even longer and more dangerous erections. The New England Journal of Medicine recently discovered that more than half of the 137 psychiatrists working on the DSM have ties to the pharmaceutical industry. One U.S. professor found DSM working groups in which “every single person has ties” to drug companies.
But at a moment when good old-fashioned bitterness is being redefined as a disorder, perhaps it’s optimism that’s the real mental illness. There’s no good reason to feel it. There’s no rational excuse for expressing it.
Fear not, those of sunny disposition—I’m sure they’re working on a pill to “cure” you. In the meantime, to prevent serious injury, be sure to immediately consult your psychiatrist if you experience a smile lasting longer than four hours.
So congratulations, American Psychiatric Association: you have catalogued the full range of human behaviours, and defined almost every one of them as crazy. Commence charging $150 an hour to link them to our feelings about our mothers.