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Dec 31, 2018

Why Mental Health Labels are Dangerous

Written by Dr. Caroline Leaf

We live in a society that is constantly trying to confine people to a box, a neat category that can be described and put in place. Unfortunately, if you don’t define your own identity, the world will try define it for you. 

I wrote the Perfect You to counter one of the most damaging aspects of the current mental health system when it comes to our identity: labelling. Professionals are quick to label people based on the unscientific checklist system of the DSM, thereby locking people and clouding their identity. Instead of seeing someone as an individual with a complex life story,a person is given a label based on disorder that has little scientific backing, such as “bipolar” or “ADHD”. These labels tend to lock people in, telling them they are a sickly individual who cannot control his or her emotions or choices because of a “disease” that needs to be managed with mind-altering substances, which often have negative side-effects and can lead to suicide.  

The current mental health care system, which centers around human biology, often overlooks the social context of a person’s pain. Yet what if someone who exhibits erratic behaviour such as dramatic moods shifts within a short space of time is trying to deal with past trauma? Say, for example, “John” was abandoned as a young boy, absorbed into the foster care system, repeatedly bullied for being different, raped by his guardians, and is never told he is loved. What is a “normal” response to such pain? No wonder this person experiences extreme highs and lows. How is a “bipolar” label and mind-numbing medication going to help John process his pain and distorted conception of love? This is of course a story, but one that is similar to what I have heard in my clinical practice and in the institutions I have worked in, both in South Africa and the US. It is common knowledge that trauma affects how we function in life; vast amounts of scientific research highlight the relationship between toxic life experiences and our health.  

Attempting to funnel the highly complex individuality and changeability of human experience into static psychopathological illness categories is reductionism at its worst, and is can be dehumanizing.  It is a flawed narrative that medicalizes and pathologizes human experience. Seeing a person as an “organism” with a disease that needs to be diagnosed and treated overlooks the unique complexity of daily living in a challenging world.

Neuroscience shows us that whatever we think about the most grows, and that we merge with our environments. Labels are never just labels—by accepting a label, you merge with it as you think about it, which distorts the truth of who you are. Labels can lock you in, and if don’t know who you are at your core, you don’t have that inner stability to keep you calm and grounded when life gets tough. Indeed, you can lose hope and your sense of purpose; you can even lose the will to live. I saw this in many of my patients—one of the first things I did when someone walked into my private practice was help them understand their identity in order to give them purpose in a world that was making them feel like they did not measure up. Their loss of hope had developed into toxic mindsets, which often resulted in failure becausethey believed they were failures. When they learnt how to believe in themselves again, they were able to achieve success in every area of their lives. 

Identity is powerful. Viktor Frankl, a Jewish neurologist and psychiatrist who spent three years in a Nazi concentration camp saw purpose and identity as life-saving. He later developed a form of psychotherapy based on his experiences. The Nazis blatantly tried to dehumanize their victims by stripping their identity and therefore their meaning and purpose. Even the architecture at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen was shaped by a deep sense of purposelessness, meaninglessness, and hopelessness. Cold still pervades every corner of every room—I shiver when I think of the day I visited the camp in Poland. Yet, despite these terrible surroundings and despite the dehumanizing tactics of the Nazis, Frankl observed that some people were able to not only survive but hold on to their identity and sense of purpose in a collapsing world. Their sense of self helped them face and survive one of the worst atrocities in human history. 

In my book the Perfect You, I have included the cutting-edge, evidence-based neuroscientific, neuropsychological, quantum physics and other research, which I used in my clinical practice over the years to teach people how to find themselves again. I outline, in a practical way, the importance of understanding your identity and how to develop a lifestyle of finding and developing your Perfect You. I meld together spiritual, psychological, and physiological research to help you choose to live a life of love and purpose.

The Perfect You will help you understand the science behind your character, that is your capacity to think, feel and choose in a way that aligns with the unique design of your brain. Once you begin to understand who you are, you can improve the way you process and reconceptualize the issues of life, your decision-making, your relationships, how you cope at work, school and at home, your sense of joy and purpose, and ultimately your mental health, which will enable you to function in and contribute to society. There is after all something that you can do that no-one else can. You have something great to give to the world! 

Not sure how to go about discovering your perfect you? Starting this January we will be tackling the issue of identity in my PERFECT YOU book club!

So how does this January book club work?

1. You will need to get my book THE PERFECT YOU (on sale now for $12.99, so you save 35%: https://store.drleaf.com/collections/frontpage/products/the-perfect-you) which is also available on Kindle and Audible.

2. I will be doing a YouTube Live once a week to answer questions and go over several key concepts:

YOUTUBE LIVE SCHEDULE
Week One (Jan 4th 10am CT): Chapter 1-3
Week Two (Jan 11th 10am CT): Chapter 4-5
Week Three (Jan 18th 10am CT): Chapter 6-7
Week Four (Jan 31st 10am CT): Chapter 8-10

Like all book clubs, if you read the assigned chapters before the YouTube live it will make each session even more meaningful so be sure to read the related chapters before each YouTube session!

If you can't make the YouTube live don't worry! The session will be available on my YouTube channel for you to watch anytime. 

*Email us your questions about the assigned chapters at questions@drleaf.com in advance of the YouTube live date.

3. I will be doing weekly podcasts related to THE PERFECT YOU, mental health, and identity so be sure to subscribe to my podcast (available on iTunes, Google Play, and YouTube): https://drleaf.com/media/podcasts/.

4. I will also be doing a weekly blog on concepts and ideas related to THE PERFECT YOU, mental health, and identity: https://drleaf.com/blog/.

5. Follow me on social media to get daily tips and information related to THE PERFECT YOU, mental health, and identity:

Instagram: @drcarolineleaf

Facebook: Dr. Caroline Leaf

Twitter: @drcarolineleaf

6. Get a team together! Community is essential when it comes to  improving our mental health, so plan a date with a few friends and work through the Perfect You together!

*Be sure to tag me in group pictures you post to social media so I can repost and share them!

7. If you would like to go more in-depth on the concepts I cover in THE PERFECT YOU, and do an online gift profile quiz, check out my online program The Perfectly You (https://perfectlyyou.com). You can also order the Perfect You workbook and DVD which is not required but will definitely help enhance you experience and help you understand the more tricky concepts: https://store.drleaf.com/collections/product-combo-deals/products/the-perfect-you-bundle.

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