A girl with too many thoughts...

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Topical Tuesday: The Effects of Labelling

For my second Topical Tuesday, I would like to discuss labels. More specifically, I would like to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of being 'labelled' with a mental health condition.

Perhaps a good way to begin this post is by first explaining exactly what I mean by a 'label'. When I use this term, I'm referring to being given a diagnosis of a particular mental health condition by a medical professional, such as 'OCD' or 'depression'. For example, I have been diagnosed with OCD, anxiety and an eating disorder - so I guess I am labelled with these conditions, so to speak? Or at least, I identify as suffering from these specific mental health conditions.

But what are the benefits of being given diagnoses such as these? And can it have any damaging effects to either the individual diagnosed or how society views mental health as a whole?

As usual with Topical Tuesday, I posted a poll on Twitter asking other mental health sufferers to vote. I asked:

'As a mental health sufferer, do you find being 'labelled' with a condition beneficial?'.


I was actually quite surprised by the results of this poll. For some reason, I was expecting more people to vote no, they do not find being labelled beneficial. However, only 5% actually voted in this way. Instead, 40% said do in fact find being 'labelled' beneficial, and the majority (55%) answered with 'sometimes'. This got me thinking about both sides of the argument...


Positives


1. It's comforting to know there is a name for what we are going through (it is not made up, it is a real thing!)

I don't know about you, but the irrational voice in my mind likes to try and convince me that I'm a fake. I worry that I don't actually have an illness, rather I am just an attention seeker. However, being able to give a name to my mental health difficulties is reassuring. This condition exists, I am not making it up.

2. There are other people out there that feel the same!


If we can identify ourselves as suffering from a particular condition, then we can also identify others that suffer from that same condition. It can be comforting when we come across somebody else with the same diagnosis as us and helps us to feel less alone in our struggle. Talking is powerful, and so being able to share experiences with those who suffer from the same condition can be extremely helpful.

3. Others might recognise our struggle is real

Not only is it reassuring for us to know that what we are experiencing is actually a real thing, but it might also help others to understand. Being able to explain to those around us that we suffer from this condition or that condition, and that is why we may behave in a certain way sometimes, helps them to understand as much as it does us.

4. Finding appropriate treatment

If we know what we are suffering from, we are more likely to be able to treat it. Different mental health conditions react better with different medications and therapies. What might work well for one condition, may not be so effective with another. Therefore, it's important to know what it is we are experiencing in order to find the best treatment for us.

Negatives 


1. Stigma/stereotypes

Being able to identify a certain disorder is all well and good, however there are often negative stereotypes that come attached to these labels.

For example, OCD is often mistakenly seen as just being neat and tidy. Depression may be viewed as nothing more than being 'sad', when in fact it is so much more than that and involves a whole array of emotions. We may have an expectation for somebody with an eating disorder to be very underweight. When in reality, there exists a whole range of eating disorders, not all of which involve restriction.

Such stereotypes can have a detrimental effect on the sufferer, but also how others view that person - including teachers, doctors etc. Stereotypes can lead to very limited knowledge on the actual reality of these conditions and can fool us into thinking that any one experience is the same, when that is not the case at all.

2. Attributing all behaviours to that one disorder

Just because somebody suffers from a mental illness, does not mean everything they do is as a result of that condition.

For example, I am quite a tidy individual. I like to keep things organised and neat. I also suffer from OCD. Put two and two together, and you may conclude that my tidy personality is a result of my OCD. However, I would actually disagree with this. I do not view my preference for organisation as a symptom of my OCD at all. I just like things tidy, this does not cause me distress and I do not recognise it as a compulsion.

People with mental health conditions also have personality traits that are separate to their illness (everybody has a personality, after all). This is why some people prefer to use terms such as 'I have depression' as opposed to 'I'm depressed'.

Mental health sufferers are not defined by their illness.

Overall, I believe that being 'labelled' or diagnosed with a mental health condition is a positive thing (due to the benefits I mentioned above). Of course, everything is going to have it's drawbacks - that's something you can't really escape. I think the term 'labelling' often has negative connotations, especially when it comes to mental health. However, this is largely due to the stigma that society has created around them, rather than the labels themselves.

Hopefully, as more and more people get on board with spreading awareness of mental health, we can work to change the negatives that are associated with such labels.

What do you think? Do you think labelling people with certain mental health conditions is positive, or is it damaging to the sufferer and how society views mental health? If you can think of any more positives/negatives, I'd love to hear them.

Let me know by commenting below!

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