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Mythical Mental Diseases

This is the season when new psychiatric diseases are discovered. A year ago (Schlagbyte, 6/16/06) I shared the newest mental illness called Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED). In this mythical disease a person has repeated uncontrollable anger attacks and wants to throttle someone or destroy property. The psychiatrists who described this new mental illness said 5% of the population suffers from it. But defining IED is problematic; does feeling uncontrollable anger often, but not actually doing it, count? How many times do you have to do something before it’s a mental illness? Does daily road rage count even though you only flip them off? Even though they can’t quite define it, my colleagues know how to treat it . . . you guessed it, IED ought to be treated with psychotropic medications.

This year we have two new mental illnesses. The first was introduced three months ago (International Journal of Neuropsychiatric Medicine, Vol.12, No.4, April, 2007) called Involuntary Emotional Expression Disorder (IEED). This mythical disease is characterized by uncontrollable episodes of laughing and/or crying causing extensive social and occupational dysfunction. We’re told that IEED affects more than one million people worldwide and is often overlooked or misdiagnosed. We are not talking about neurological disorders like ALS, Parkinsonism, Alzheimer’s and other dementias, or neurological injuries all of which reveal such symptoms. We’re being told that if you are inappropriately hilarious or demonstrate excess emotionality, you could be suffering from this disease. Defining it, however, is again the problem — how much hilarity, how often does it have to occur, or how long does it have to last, do teenager sleep-overs count?

Just last month another new mental illness was introduced. At the American Medical Association’s meeting in Chicago several weeks ago, the House of Delegates wanted to add videogame addiction to the panorama of mental illnesses. It deferred the final decision to the American Psychiatric Association for inclusion in its new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).

How do we define this addiction? By the hours played, the desire to play, can any activity that provides similar stimulation and is indulged to excess qualify (racing cars, playing hooky to watch baseball games, etc.)? Declaring more mythical diseases for which real drugs will surely be recommended is a disaster. 25% of all Americans are said to be suffering from a mental illness (Schlagbyte 6/20/05), because we keep making diseases out of social issues. We label unacceptable behaviors as sicknesses and justify treatment with potent and potentially dangerous drugs.


There is no video-game addiction, there are simply not enough parents around who say no and mean it. “NO!” My mother said you can’t do it, you can’t play hooky to watch a baseball; you can’t gamble your milk money on games, you can’t climb on the girders of new apartment buildings, because if you do these things again there will be consequences, and she followed through. What is needed is limit setting not pill pushing for social issues made to look like new diseases.

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Dr. Carl A. Hammerschlag, M.D., CPAE is a psychiatrist, author, and professional keynote speaker. He is an authority in the science of psychoneuroimmunology mind, body, spirit medicine and speaks about health and wellness, healing, leadership and authenticity . He has delivered motivational keynote speeches to corporate and business clients around the world.