The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual version V (DSMV) is often referred to as the “bible” when it comes to diagnosing the complexities of a particular mental health condition.
The specific mental health conditions that fall under the umbrella of Serious and Persistent Mental Illnesses (SPMI) exclusively include Major Depression, Bipolar Disorders, Schizophrenia and Borderline Personality Disorder.
But there is an entire population that exists outside these parameters. What about them? For those living on the “outside” of SPMI, it can feel as if the challenges they encounter with their mental illnesses are trivialized.
Struggling is struggling. Pain is pain, no matter what the specific diagnosis. Those with anxiety, considered one of the “lighter” mental illnesses, can become crippled to the point where they can barely function. Because that diagnosis is not classified as an SPMI, does it mean their journey is any less difficult?
SPMI is a term that divides the mentally ill community. So many of us have the same challenges regardless of what diagnosis we have been labeled: medication merry-go-round, multiple inpatient hospitalizations, the insurmountable weight of both internal and external stigma and discovering the most effective symptom management strategies.
The primary issue here is that diagnoses are a key factor in determining both the treatments and benefits available to those with mental illnesses. From first-hand experience, I can tell you that a diagnosis is more often than not a label placed on a mentally ill person with a “best guess” effort.
This is by no means discounting the difficulty mental health professionals face. Diagnosing any mental illness comes without clear cut tests such as an X-ray to indisputably say “Yes, this is in fact a broken bone.”
What these professionals face is having a 500-piece puzzle dumped on a table with the hope that the pieces fit together in a way that makes sense. To make things even more difficult sometimes pieces are missing, misshapen, or the box top is missing, with no reference as to what the completed picture is supposed to be.
The patient presents what they believe they’re experiencing. This perspective may not always be the most accurate, especially when certain symptoms are possibly misleading.
The divisive term SPMI creates an “us vs. them” scenario. There becomes this hierarchy of struggling; one journey is significantly more difficult than the other.
Everyone with a mental illness is on the journey with a variety of unique challenges and circumstances. I would argue the level of resources an individual has access to can have a far greater impact than what label they are wearing.
The mentality we should all adopt is using the symptoms instead of the diagnosis as a compass for which direction to take. The divisive nature of SPMI only makes this more difficult.
Laura Kaponer is a mental health advocate and social media blogger, as well as a volunteer with the local chapter of NAMI. #LauraKaponeris1in5 (as 1 in 5 Americans have a mental illness).