When I was growing up, mental illness was shunned. We did not talk about it in my household. The first time I really heard much about mentally ill people was from my two aunts. They were nurses in a mental hospital for chronic patients in Kentucky. As a young girl of 16, I was immediately drawn into the strangeness of this new world. I went up to visit my aunts when they were working and I was able to actually walk the halls with the patients. I was not scared, but what impressed me most about these sick folks was how they mostly kept to themselves. They talked to themselves and did not seem to notice the world around them. One man did come up to me saying some jibberish that had to do with eatting Ronald Reagan’s liver for lunch and I said, “I hope it tasted good.” I did not know what to say and as many of you know I do have a strange sense of humor.
When I became a Registered Nurse, I left the crazy world my aunts loved to concentrate most of my nursing in critical care or post operative surgery. I thought this kind of nursing was a much safer world for me. I guess I was fooled. However, the world of Mental Health never left my personal life. In 1993, I welcomed a beautiful baby boy named Luke. He would be diagnosed with PDD-NOS or Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. Later this was just noted as Autism. My world as I knew it was shaken to its core.
You see a panel of experts in 1994 had completed a new revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) that would be used by the medical community to identify and diagnose children like mine with Autism. They say 20% of the population has some form of mental illness. I think it is higher, but what do I know.
This year a revised version of the DSM ( ONLY fifth revision since its creation in 1952) came out. Many folks in the medical community are up in arms about it. Change is not easy. My concern is more that we do not let the new DSM take away the much needed health care for individuals who need it to function in everyday life. Globally this book will be used to diagnose, but in America this book is hugely significant to the ordinary person because if a person is not diagnosed, one does not get the dollars from their health insurance. This concerns me. I think time will tell how all this plays out especially with Obamacare taking root in the next year or so. In general I applaud the mental health community for updating the book. It needed to be done.
I also want to mention that I fear for the over diagnosing of individuals with mental illness. A word of advice: Do not take a pill for every whim and especially do not put a child on a pill to mask symptoms until you really understand what is going on. Patience is needed . Do not be in a rush. Where the heck you going anyway? It has taken many years of finding the right medication for Luke. He is on two main meds right now and is functioning fairly well on them. He is monitored very closely by doctors we have found in our community we trust in Seattle.