Putting 'normal' on the mental catwalk
A leading Professor of philosophy believes that being normal is as unachievable as being a supermodel on the catwalk.
Professor Lars Fredrik Svendsen from the University of Bergen (UiB) has based his theory on the Norwegian diagnostic manual for mental disorders, which is influenced by the DSM system developed by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM editions are criticised for constantly lowering the thresholds for qualifying for a psychiatric diagnosis. Professor Lars' conclusions will be published in the fifth edition of DSM in May.
The aforementioned publications are believed to have an effect on how psychiatrists redefine what is normal and abnormal. Diagnoses of normal or abnormal are not contained in a closed session; they have a wider cultural significance. The steady downgrading of the diagnostic thresholds affects how people might view themselves.
Professor Svendsen says: 'We are in the process of turning the disease (mental disorders) into the norm, and where the normal becomes the exception. If this continues, we will eventually see that what we deem normal is put on what I call the mental catwalk.'
The Professor believes that we risk seeing the normal as abnormal. In practice, this may imply that more people deviate from the norm, turning to medical treatment simply to approach some semblance of normality. The Professor compares it to the perfect bodies Photoshopped in lifestyle magazines.
There are many critics of the DSM diagnostic manuals, on which the catwalk theory is based, who believe that a number of general human features have become pathologised over the last few years.
Professor Svendsen says: 'There has been a gradual shift away from seeing ourselves as relatively resourceful people with an ability to handle life to being chronically vulnerable. We are in the process of creating people who are unfit to live life.'
He stresses that caution should be exercised when making a diagnosis, as a diagnosis is a label that creates an image of who and what you are.
The Professor concludes: 'There is the danger that your diagnosis becomes your identity when the thresholds are lowered. But what we should keep in mind is that the diagnosis says nothing about the positive beliefs and resources inherent in a human being.'
Data Source Provider: University of Bergen
Document Reference: Based on information from the University of Bergen
Subject Index: Scientific Research