Mental Illness as a Family Value

February 2003

Have you been bickering with your better half? Couldn't agree on Chinese takeout or pizza delivery? Her folks or yours for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Had to holler at your kids lately? Little Johnny forgot to dump the trash? Junior wants to stay out past curfew -- with the family car? If you answered yes, you may be caught in the grips of a mental illness.

At least that's how some members of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) want to categorize you. The Washington Post recently reported that "the nation's top psychologists" are pushing an "entirely new category of mental illness" to be included in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the APA's "official guide for defining emotional and mental illnesses." This new category, called "Relational Disorders," would apply to "family relationships," such that "couples who constantly quarrel and parents and children who clash could be diagnosed with mental illnesses and treated, possibly, with drugs." (There's more: "Troubled relationships between siblings could be the next large group.")

We notice that in the description of "Relational Disorders" there is no mention of serious family strife -- battery, desertion, adultery, malnourishment, incest. Rather, the concern here is with mere quarreling and clashes -- common occurrences among people who live together in close quarters over the course of entire childhoods or adulthoods, and in some cases, entire lifetimes.

The APA seems to be telling us that couples who quarrel are not simply airing everyday aggravations but are actually exhibiting the symptoms of their "mental illness." We know some couples who could fit this description, one of whom has been married for some 25 years and, if one were to ask them individually, would both say they are happily married. We know another such couple who recently welcomed their sixth child into their fold. It is said that those who weather the toughest storms together come out stronger for it in the end -- without counseling, mood-altering medications, or admittance to the nut house.

Parents clashing with their kids is, in our eyes, probably a good and necessary thing. Given that rebellion is one of pop culture's fastest-selling commodities, parents who don't discipline their children and set strict limits are likely not instilling Christian character in them. Not all kids are meek and mild; some require tough love. Those who need it but don't get it will likely run roughshod over their parents and eventually be chewed up and spit out by our predatory pop culture.


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New Oxford Notes: February 2003

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