1 in 5 young adults has personality disorder

CHICAGO – Almost one in five young American adults [ages 19-25] has a personality disorder that interferes with everyday life…

The disorders include problems such as obsessive or compulsive tendencies and anti-social behavior that can sometimes lead to violence. The study also found that fewer than 25 percent of college-aged Americans with mental problems get treatment. …

Counting substance abuse, the study found that nearly half of young people surveyed have some sort of psychiatric condition, including students and non-students. …

This has been all over the mainstream media in the past couple of days. Fox News (vid) has even dubbed it a “mental health crisis.”

Call me crazy, but I just don’t believe it.

According to the researchers’ supposedly rigorous (although not administered by psychologists) interview and assessment process,

Personality disorders showed up in similar numbers among both students and non-students, including the most common one, obsessive compulsive personality disorder. About 8 percent of young adults in both groups had this illness, which can include an extreme preoccupation with details, rules, orderliness and perfectionism. …

In both groups, about 8 percent had phobias and 7 percent had depression.

Those are just ridiculously high numbers. I think the bigger disorder at work here is that we live in an obsessively over-diagnosed, over-medicated society.

Don’t get me wrong:  I’m not discounting the existence of genuine psychological problems. I had to wrestle with a few of my own in my younger years, and I’ve seen them in others. I certainly agree that it’s important to detect them when they’re serious and offer proper diagnosis and treatment (which doesn’t, however, necessarily mean pharmaceuticals).

However, in my admittedly non-expert opinion it looks like the diagnostic criteria have gotten entirely too broad here. Have we stopped acknowledging that there’s actually a pretty wide range of human personalities in the world, and most people in most times and places have coped just fine without being considered any more than “eccentric”? Have we forgotten that we happen to live in a very fast-paced, competitive, and stressful culture, and that perhaps it’s more important to mitigate the causes of that than to diagnose the effects? Do we refuse to admit that young adults have a long history of enjoying large amounts of various (ahem) “substances,” and that this doesn’t necessarily signify a disorder so much as just a phase of life? Are we comparing everyone to some theoretical model of “normal” that few people actually match?

At least these objections aren’t just being raised here on the sidelines by amateurs like me. As the article notes, there’s expert opinion weighing in as well:

Dr. Jerald Kay, a psychiatry professor at Wright State University and chairman of the American Psychiatric Association’s college mental health committee… said the prevalence of personality disorders was higher than he would expect and questioned whether the condition might be overdiagnosed.

Dr. Kay’s reservations were reported (rather grudgingly) buried in the lower depths of the article. However, while he was the only expert with a contrary view quoted therein, it’s highly unlikely that he’s the only one out there with these concerns.

And why the emphasis on young people? Put this together with things like the “TeenScreen” program created a couple years ago (did you know that up to 50% of teens are suicide risks? Ohh noes!), and the implications for social control can come to seem downright Orwellian.

I’d submit, moreover, that over-diagnosing these disorders almost certainly makes it harder to filter out and focus on that smaller number who really do have serious problems and need professional help.

…Okay, just a quick rant. It’s over now. Move on about your business; nothing more to see here.

One Response to “There are real problems, and then there’s this”
  1. ultragreen says:

    One of my buddies is always talking about your blog at work – finally came and checked it out today, nice work! I’m subscribing to your rss feed – keep on posting!

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