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Letters to the Editor

Letter: Leave mental illness diagnoses to experts

Monday, November 30, 2015

To the Editor:

In his Nov. 23 column, Chad Simon ’16 described his experiences with depression and mental health services at Brown. He went on to discuss his thoughts on how mental health issues should be viewed and dealt with on college campuses. Overall, his arguments are rooted in anecdotal evidence, and they are thus ignorant and unproductive.

Simon implies that individuals’ refusal to take responsibility for their mental health prevents them from recovering. He suggests challenging claims of mental illness made by friends and family could save lives.

Questioning another’s “purported depression” goes beyond insensitivity. Not believing someone in crisis would likely accomplish the opposite of what Simon suggests and could put lives in danger. Choosing not to believe someone who comes forward with a mental health concern may discourage that person from seeking treatment, and Simon is right in stating that treatment for depression is correlated with lower suicide rates.

Simon writes that he knows “powerfully little about the physiological mechanisms behind real … depression.” Defining “real” depression is difficult, given that no two individuals’ experiences with mental illness will be entirely the same. Thankfully, there is an entire field of study devoted to taking the subjectivity out of mental health assessments.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders clearly outlines the criteria for the diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder and can be found online. An individual does not need to be, as Simon states, “moored-to-the-bed-in-supine-position” to legitimately experience depression. Furthermore, “recontextualizing” depression is actually the crux of most modern treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapies are aimed at restructuring thought patterns that perpetuate depressive symptoms.

Ultimately, only psychotherapists, psychiatrists and other physicians are qualified to assess whether or not someone’s diagnosis is accurate. It is worrisome that pre-med students (such as Simon) who share his views may one day be in this important position. Pre-med students should make a conscious effort to educate themselves about mental illnesses before graduating. Take a class in psychopathology, volunteer at a mental health center or just talk with some of the many students willing to share their personal stories.

Most educated people capable of empathy understand that the overwhelming majority of people with mental illnesses are not simply “self-absorbed.” Those interested in real change don’t have time for such ridiculous debates — there is too much work to be done.

Lindsay Gantz ’17

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