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Merle D. Zimmermann

Psychology 100

Essay 3: (Topic D)


The Dangers of Diagnosis


What is a mental disorder?

A mental disorder affects nearly half of people during their lifetimes in the US (Smith 565).  An important part of getting treatment for a disorder is having it promptly identified.  There are many kinds of disorders, and sometimes it becomes difficult to make an accurate diagnosis of a patient.


Mental disorders are defined as a problem that originates in the brain of the patient.  The disorder interferes with conducting a good and happy life.  These problems manifest themselves with myriads of symptoms.  In some cases of patients suffering from schizophrenia, they become stiff and will not move for hours because they fall into a ‘catatonic’ state.  Other mental problems include delusional disorders, where the patient believes something that isn’t true, or depression (overwhelming feelings of apathy and sadness).

Note from TA: I need you to include info about maladaptation, bizzare behavior, etc (see the text). SCORE 3/4


How does diagnosis take place?

Before treatment, a patient must have his or her mental disorder diagnosed.  A diagnosis can be done in several ways.  The patient can fill out self-evaluation forms, be interviewed by the care provider, or attend counseling sessions.  The forms can be scored to determine what the patient suffers from.  Interviews are more flexible; the questions can focus more on what particular problem the patient has, making diagnosis faster and easier, but also involving more human interaction.  Whatever method is used, the patient is eventually diagnosed with whatever ailment best fits the data.

Note from TA: I need you to describe the DSM-IV in this section. SCORE 2/4


What are some common pitfalls that the diagnosing doctor must face?

Unfortunately, diagnosis is not always this straightforward.  In some cases a misdiagnosis can occur, sometimes with serious side effects.  In one case described by Dr. Mann during one of his lectures on Chapter 16, a man was admitted to a hospital and diagnosed with delusional paranoia after he told the doctors there that he was sure that his wife was trying to kill him.  Alas, but the diagnosis turned out to be incorrect; his wife really was intent on his demise.  Fortunately, none of her attempts were successful, but the man was in a very dangerous situation that could have been avoided had he not been diagnosed incorrectly.


Some mental illnesses are quite similar to each other.  This can make a correct diagnosis difficult to come by.  One doctor will determine that the patient suffers from one thing, while another doctor discovers a different problem.  Misdiagnosis occurs with the greatest frequency with panic disorders, generalized anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.


What are some of the dangers of diagnosis?

Even when the diagnosis is correct, it may cause more harm than good.  After a diagnosis is given to a patient, the label can follow them around for life.  There is a serious problem with ‘normal’ people discriminating against those people unfortunate enough to suffer from a mental illness.


Patients who have been diagnosed with severe mental illnesses sometimes show a marked increase in symptoms.  A diagnosis can sometimes harm more than it helps.  Also, there was a study by David Rosenhan where he and some friends told the doctors at an asylum that they were schizophrenic.  After they were diagnosed and admitted, the medical men treated them like the other patients even though they acted like normal people.  (569)


If diagnosis is so dangerous, why does anyone use it?

Although some problems can occur when diagnoses take place, they are still useful.  When a patient is accurately diagnosed, it makes it much easier for the doctors to prescribe the proper treatments to help them.  Diagnoses cover most of the common mental illnesses, and without them it would be very hard for the professionals who deal with such problems to describe the sufferings of their patients to each other.


“[Diagnosis is] … also necessary for research.”  If there is no way to group patients together, it is hard to study them and find out what possible causes there are for a particular problem. (570)

Overall score: 17 / 20
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