I posted a Psychology Today A Conceptual Revolution column yesterday, “Do You Need a Diagnosis to Get Some Help?” There I shared an overview of what happened when a team of volunteers from the East Side Institute and Social Therapy Group conducted a survey on diagnosis at Harlem Week, a street festival of over 100 events that celebrates Harlem’s rich cultural, economic and political history.
Of the nearly 100 people who stopped to talk and take the survey, most had serious reservations about psychiatric diagnosis and offered alternatives ways people in emotional distress cold get help. At the same time, there was widespread recognition that diagnosis is the name of the game if you want to get some professional help.
Hearing the opinions and, sometimes, life stories of ordinary people is heartening and sobering. Most important, they need to be shared with the public and professionals. Every successful challenge to psychiatric diagnosis has come about through mass public protest. Maybe, just maybe, a new one is beginning.
I’m pleased to share a few highlights from our conversations with Harlem Week strollers who took the time to have a thoughtful conversation with one of our volunteers.
- “They label kids as soon as they come out of the womb.”
- “Being a minority is bad enough. Adding diagnosis to it is too much.”
- “I had to fight to get counseling for my kid. They just wanted to give him drugs.”
- “You shouldn’t have to feel that you have to have it [diagnosis].”
- “Getting a diagnosis limits life experience, you’re treated differently, you feel like an outcast.”
I was especially heartened by the many things people offered as “other ways to support people emotionally.”
- The most frequently mentioned were activities that deal with the emotional problem directly, such as support groups, talking about what’s going on for you, family support, and therapy.
- But additionally, many people went outside the mental illness frame and suggested all kinds of things people could do—including volunteering, hobbies, creating community, music, dance, writing, meditation, prayer and exercise— apparently recognizing the emotional support that comes from actively creating your life with others.
Even as we work to get the glitches out of our survey questions, prepare to hit the streets again soon, and invite other organizations and associations to join us in this kind of community fieldwork, it’s worth sharing the news that not everyone has bought the pseudoscientific claims of the psychiatric and mental health establishments.