What are the advantages and disadvantages of classifying mental disorders into types?
I share much of the sentiments above regarding the benefits of classifying mental conditions. However, as some editors have also expressed, I feel there can be genuine drawbacks for a number of reasons. As a father of a son who may or may not be "dyslexic", you begin to realise how unhelpful the term can be as the problem is that there are so many different types of dyslexia - there is definitely not one definition or list of symptoms, and so often these conditions overlap with others, making labelling such conditions profoundly unhelpful and in a sense meaningless. Labelling can also be profoundly damaging - the problem with labels is that they stick and this can have an adverse affect on individuals.
A lot of the posters refer to an aspect of the labels that make those of us in special ed very picky about using "people-first language." When you give someone a diagnosis, it is very easy to pigeon-hole them, and assume that you know everything about them. People-first language means that we should refer to, say, a person with autism, rather than "an autistic person". Putting the label as a qualifier makes it the most important thing about the person and that is simply not true.
The classification of mental disorders helps people to learn the disorder so there is a definite advantage to classification. A disadvantage is that many mental disorders overlap. In addition to this, people may suffer from more than one mental disorder.
I would agree that by classifying the disorders it makes it easier for people to better educate themselves about the disorder. Whether it be a family member or someone that works with the person education about the disorder is very important.
It seems to me on one level that the advantages to classifying mental disorders into types would be minimal, though this may just be an issue of semantics with me. This is no area of expertise for me, but your question seems to be analogous to taking random identified objects and putting them in an organized outline. The items (disorders) have been identified, so putting them into order (classifying them) seems like a relatively benign exercise that has neither advantages nor disadvantages.
On another level, categories of mental illness generally indicate degrees and types. When a certain mental disorder has been identified and placed under a general category of mental illness, the treatment and medication options necessarily become clearer and more precise. That's a clear advantage. The disadvantages include the stigma/label issue as mentioned above and possibly the insurance implications for treatment.
It seems to me the primary benefit would be to properly assess treatment options, since some types of mental illness are treatable with medication and others with therapy and some with both. It's also important from a public health and safety standpoint, as some kinds of disorders may require involuntary commitment to an institution in order to protect both the patient, their family and others. Classification allows us to apply a legal framework to mental illness too that makes treatment more possible and appropriate.
Once labeled, however, the social stigma can be lifelong. It may be hard to get insurance, might raise your rates, make it more difficult to find and maintain employment, and society still, unfortunately, pretty openly discriminates against the mentally challenged and ill.
For families, it is an invaluable service. Now that we have the internet, it is easy to access information that is helpful about mental disorders. As the mother of a young woman with borderline personality disorder, I can assure you that misdiagnoses can add years of misery to the problem. It took several years to migrate from clinical depression to manic-depression to bipolar disorder to finally the correct diagnosis of BPD for my daughter. Learning about the disorders enlightened me greatly and there are distinct and significant differences in treatment of them.
I would also add that adults and students alike who are "labeled" tend to fall into patterns of behavior that are usually associated with these categories even if they have never shown these symptoms before the diagnosis. I have witnessed students using their "categories and labels" as excuses for not doing work which they are perfectly capable of doing but sometimes get out of because of their disorder. Of course, this is not always true, but it seems that more often than not, people use the label as an excuse rather than achieving in spite of the label they have been given.
- The Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is a text which categorizes mental disorders by causative factor, type of malignancy, tendency to co-morbidity, characteristics, and much more.
- Considering that many mental disorders are not quantitatively measured, and many illnesses affect people differently, it is convenient to have a paradigm to follow in order to expect and predict certain behaviors while we observe as clinicians for possible conditions.
- What is disadvantageous about this is that not everything could be put under one umbrella, and many disorders mimic others.
- For example, bipolar disorder is not a condition that can be categorized as a disorder created by hormonal imbalance, but PMDD is. Yet, both conditions mimic each other so well that if a clinician is not willing to perform two different observations the client might end up misdiagnosed and (what's worse) might get the wrong prescription and aggravate the problem.