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Friday, December 19, 2014

Does Your Child Have a Mental Disorder?

From the Psychology Today Blog "Rethinking Psychology"
How to shed mental health labels and create personal meaning.

By Eric Maisel, Ph.D.
December 8, 2014

Nine questions for parents to ask.

Rather than presume that your child has a pseudo-medical condition called a “mental disorder” when she is sad, anxious, or angry, presume something else instead. Presume that you do not know what is going on, and that you need to ask some important questions of yourself, your child, the people in your circle, and, if they enter the picture, mental health service providers.

Decide that you will think before you agree to allow your child to be labeled with some pseudo-medical-sounding “mental disorder” label and then “medicated.” Think—and ask questions!

Here are some questions to ask. This is not an exhaustive list. I hope that you’ll dream up more questions yourself. Better to ask too many questions than too few questions before saddling your child with a life-long label!

1.) Is there a problem?

Let’s say that your child is exhibiting some sort of problem. First of all, is it a problem? Is it a problem that your child waits two months longer to speak than did Jane across the street? Why is that a problem as opposed to a natural difference? Is it a problem that he enthusiastically signs up for violin lessons and then wants to stop them after two weeks? Why is that a problem as opposed to a change of heart? Is it a problem that he doesn’t want to sit at the dinner table where you and your mate are always fighting? Why is that a problem as opposed to good common sense?

You can call any of these a problem—a developmental delay, a lack of disciple, a refusal to obey—but where is the love, charity or logic in that?

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2.) Who has the problem?

If you belittle your child and he grows sad and withdrawn, your child certainly has a problem. But don’t you have one as well? Isn’t your habit of belittling him a genuine problem? If you are highly anxious and your child becomes highly anxious, your child certainly has a problem. But don’t you have a problem as well? Isn’t your anxious nature infectious? If you are rigid and dogmatic and your child rebels against your house rules, your child certainly has a problem. But don’t you as well? Doesn’t rigidity virtually demand rebellion?

You can blame your child for his behaviors and take no responsibility for yours, but how righteous is that? The word “parent” doesn’t make you right, and the word “child” doesn’t make him wrong.

3.) What does your child say?

Have you asked your child what’s going on? Asking is very different from accusing or interrogating. Have you had a quiet, compassionate, heart-to-heart conversation with your child in which you express your worry, announce your love, listen to your child’s concerns, and collaborate with her on creating some strategies and tactics that might help her deal with the problems she’s experiencing? Are you in the habit of checking in with your child to understand what she is thinking and feeling?

4.) What do other people say?

Have you checked in with the people in your circle: your mate, your other children, your parents, and anyone else who knows your child well? What are their thoughts on what’s going on? They may have nothing useful or productive to offer or they may have some very important insights into what’s going on. Ask the people who know your child what they think.

5.) Do you love your child?

Human beings do not automatically love other human beings. Do you love your child? Do you soften in his presence and want to hug him or do you harden in his presence and want to scold him? Do you look at him with love or do you look at him to see if his fingernails are clean and if his homework is done? How reasonable is it for your child not to grow sad or angry if he feels that what he gets from you is not love but criticism or worse, revulsion?

6.) Are you quick to accept labels for yourself?

Do you regularly believe that you “have” something—clinical depression, say, or ADD? If you too easily agree that you have a “mental disorder” that requires “medication” it is reasonable to suppose that you’ll find it easy to go along with the labeling of your child.

If you say things to yourself like, “Oh, I have ADD and Bobby does too,” or “Depression runs in our family,” please ask yourself, “Isn’t it time I really understood what a ‘mental disorder’ is and if I actually have any?”

7.) Has my child had a full medical work-up recently?

What if her school difficulties have to do with poor eyesight or poor hearing? What if her lethargy, her pain complaints, or her sleeplessness are symptoms of an actual medical condition? Make sure that you rule out genuine organic and biological causes for the “symptoms” that your child is displaying.

This can prove a complicated, frustrating experience: the root causes of human behaviors are not so easily traced back to medical conditions even when such conditions exist. As complicated and frustrating as the experience may prove, however, a medical workup should be part of your plan.

8.) If you decide that your child needs some help, what sort of help are you looking for?

You may well decide that you alone can’t do enough to help your child reduce her experience of distress. But where should you turn for help? It amounts to a very different decision to take her to a child psychologist whose specialty is talk and who uses techniques like play therapy, and to a psychiatrist whose specialty is “diagnosing mental disorders” and whose technical interventions are chemicals.

There are many types of helpers, from school counselor to family therapist to residential treatment specialist to psychiatrist, each of who comes at problems from a different angle. Educate yourself as to what these different service providers are actually likely to provide.

9.) Here is the primary question to ask any mental health professional you encounter who announces that your child has a mental disorder: What is your rationale for labeling my child with a mental disorder and for prescribing chemicals?

If a mental health professional would like to give your child a mental health label, inquire as to his or her rationale for doing so. Ask questions like, “By ‘mental disorder’ do you mean ‘medical issue’? If you do not mean ‘medical issue,’ why do you want to prescribe medicine to my child? If you do mean ‘medical issue,’ I would like you to prove it to me at least a little. P.S. Opening up that flawed shopping catalogue called the DSM and pointing to a page will not to my mind constitute proof.”

Children are a vulnerable population. Their parents are their first line of protection. Taking your child’s side sometimes means actively disputing conventional ideas about “what is right” and “what is best.” The first step in defending your child’s right to be herself and to have a childhood is educating yourself about these issues. You may agree with me or you may disagree with me: I put it in your hands to become the expert you need to be.

If you want to learn more, here is a reading list of more than 60 books that dispute our current wanton mental disorder labeling system. Isn’t it your job to engage in this investigation?

Reading List

Barber, Charles. Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry is Medicating a Nation

Bass, Alison. Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial

Basset, Thurstine and Theo Stickley. Voices of Experience: Narratives of Mental Health Survivors

Bentall, Richard. Madness Explained: Psychosis and Human Nature

Bentall, Richard. Doctoring the Mind: Why Psychiatric Treatments Fail

Boyle, Mary. Schizophrenia: A Scientific Delusion?

Breggin, Peter. Medication Madness: The Role of Psychiatric Drugs in Cases of Violence, Suicide, and Crime

Breggin, Peter. Toxic Psychiatry: Why Therapy, Empathy and Love Must Replace the Drugs, Electroshock, and Biochemical Theories of the "New Psychiatry"

Caplan, Paula. Bias in Psychiatric Diagnosis

Caplan, Paula. They Say You’re Crazy: How the World’s Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who’s Normal

Carlat, Daniel. Unhinged: The Trouble with Psychiatry

Coles, Steven, Sarah Keenan and Bob Diamond. Madness Contested. Power and Practice

Conrad, Peter. The Medicalization of Society: On the Transformation of Human Conditions into Treatable Disorders

Cordle, Hannah, Jerome Carson and Paul Richards. Psychosis: Stories of Recovery and Hope

Cromby, John, David Harper and Paula Reavey. Psychology, Mental Health and Distress

Fadden, Grainne, Carolyn James and Vanessa Pinfold. Caring for Yourself - Self Help for Families and Friends Supporting People with Mental Health Problems

Fancher, Robert. Cultures of Healing: Correcting the Image of American Mental Health Care

Fisher, Seymour and Roger Greenberg. From Placebo to Panacea: Putting Psychiatric Drugs to the Test

Geekie, Jim. Making Sense of Madness: Contesting the Meaning of Schizophrenia

Greenberg, Gary. The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry

Healy, David. Let Them Eat Prozac: The Unhealthy Relationship Between the Pharmaceutical Industry and Depression

Healy, David. Pharmageddon

Hornstein, Gail. Agnes’ Jacket: A Psychologist’s Search for the Meanings of Madness

Horwitz, Allan and Jerome Wakefield. The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow Into Depressive Disorder

Johnstone, Lucy. A Straight Talking Introduction to Psychiatric Diagnosis

Johnstone, Lucy: Formulation in Psychology and Psychotherapy: Making Sense of People’s Problems

Johnstone, Lucy. Users and Abusers of Psychiatry: A Critical Look at Psychiatric Practice

Jones, Steven, Fiona Lobban and Anne Cooke. Understanding Bipolar Disorder: why people experience extreme mood states and what can help

Joseph, Jay. The Missing Gene: Psychiatry, Heredity, and the Fruitless Search for Genes

Kinderman, Peter. A Prescription for Psychiatry: Why We Need a Whole New Approach to Mental Health and Wellbeing

Kirk, Stuart, Tomi Gomory and David Cohen. Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs

Kirk, Stuart. Mental Disorders in the Social Environment

Kirk, Stuart and Herb Kutchins. The Selling of DSM: The Rhetoric of Science in Psychiatry

Kirsch, Irving. The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth

Kutchins, Herb and Stuart Kirk. Making Us Crazy: DSM: The Psychiatric Bible and the Creation of Mental Disorders

Laurance, Jeremy. Pure Madness: How Fear Drives the Mental Health System

Levine, Bruce. Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy and Community in a World Gone Crazy

Maisel, Eric. Life Purpose Boot Camp

Maisel, Eric. Mastering Creative Anxiety

Maisel, Eric. Rethinking Depression: How to Shed Mental Health Labels and Create Personal Meaning

Maisel, Eric. Why Smart People Hurt

Moncrieff, Joanna. A Straight Talking Guide to Psychiatric Drugs

Moncrieff, Joanna. The Bitterest Pills: The Troubling Story of Antipsychotic Drugs

Moncrieff, Joanna. The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment

Rapley, Mark, Joanna Moncrieff and Jacqui Dillon. De-Medicalizing Misery: Psychiatry, Psychology and the Human Condition

Read, John and Pete Sanders. A Straight Talking Guide to the Causes of Mental Health Problems

Rosemond, John and Bose Ravenel. The Diseasing of America’s Children: Exposing the ADHD Fiasco and Empowering Parents to Take Back Control

Ross, Colin and Alvin Pam. Pseudoscience in Biological Psychiatry: Blaming the Body

Shannon, Scott. Mental Health for the Whole Child

Shannon, Scott. Parenting for the Whole Child

Shannon, Scott. Please Don’t Label My Child

Sinaikin, Phillip. Psychiatryland: How To Protect Yourself from Pill-Pushing Psychiatrists and Develop a Personal Plan for Optimal Mental Health

Szasz, Thomas: The Manufacture of Madness

Szasz, Thomas. The Myth of Mental Illness

Tew, Jerry. Social Approaches to Mental Distress

Timimi, Sami. A Straight Talking Guide to Children’s Mental Health Problems

Valenstein, Elliot. Blaming the Brain: The Truth About Drugs and Mental Health

Watters, Ethan. Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche

Whitaker, Robert. Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America

Whitaker, Robert. Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill

Williams, Paris. Rethinking Psychosis: Towards a Paradigm Shift in our Understanding of Psychosis


Eric Maisel is the author of more than 40 books. Visit or contact him at His most recent book is Life Purpose Boot Camp. For information on Life Purpose Boot Camp and becoming a life purpose boot camp instructor, please visit


This is the third in a series on the mental health issues of children and adolescents. The first two pieces are here:

1 comment:

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