You've surely hung out with an intro psych student at some time in your life. One day you're having a regular conversation with them, and mention something vaguely abnormal you were considering a few days prior. They perk right up, look at you intently, and start asking questions about why you have that particlular idea. They also ask questions about other stuff seemingly at random, like your sleep habits, what kind of jokes you find funny, your shoe size, etc. After about fifteen minutes of this activity -- which seems to actively take up a great deal of their mental processing power -- they pronounce a verdict about your mental health (or lack thereof).

You are bipolar.
You have panic disorder.
or maybe
You should to be taking SSRIs.
and so forth...

I myself can't claim innocence on this front, as I'm in an introductory psychology class right now. Instead of "diagnosing" other people, though, I tend to find aspects of whatever the day's lecture is about in myself. Did I once have an eating disorder for six months? Are my screwed up emotions a function of very slight autism? Do I twitch because I have an anxiety disorder? Does thinking about all of these things mean I'm paranoid? I know from talking to others in my class that I'm not the only one that participates in this variation, either.

About a decade ago, at the age of 10, I found a copy of the DSM-IV at my house. This is unsuprising, as both of my parents have degrees in social work, and my father practices. Being a bit strange, I picked it up to see what it was about. I started reading through it, and in about an hour, had diagnosed myself with most existing mental disorders. In addition to this, I realized that almost everyone I knew had at least a couple of symptoms for one of the disorders in the book. It was kind of freaky, and when my dad got back, over the next couple hours, I asked him what people who had (insert name of disorder here) did, or what medicine they needed to take, etc.

After a while, I kind of forgot about the incident, while having this notion in the back of my head that everybody was alot more screwed up than anyone thought. I didn't really think about it much, but several years later, I heard a story.

Someone else I know, who received a degree in Social Work, said that the DSM-IV was a kind of funny book, not really so reliable as a reference unless you were basically fully trained already. He said that in the first class that he had relating to diagnostics in social work, they had a little introduction to what they should and shouldn't do. The professor explained to them that they would be dealing with different mental diseases, and that many students diagnose themselves and friends. The professor pointed out that distance from the person diagnosed is one of the prerequisites for any diagnosis. Therefore firstly, none of the students should do any diagnostics at all until significantly more knowledgeable, secondly, it is practically impossible for a person to diagnose themself or someone they know well. Thirdly, even if they are not related or close to the person, diagnosing someone as being co-dependant at a party will get you slapped.

And that is all I have to say about that (until next time.)

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