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Labels are for Soup Cans

It’s great to know what kind of soup is in the can. Without labels, we could end up expecting tomato soup to go with our grilled cheese sandwich, and instead end up with split pea.

Personally, that would be a huge disappointment.  So yes, labels make sense on soup cans. But what about the labels we are attaching to people, especially those heavy diagnostic labels we are putting on our kids, like anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder?  In the case of teens and young adults, their life situations as well as their brains are constantly changing.  This is the time of life to figure out who you are and what you want in life. This is a time of incredible growth and change. Perhaps many of the behaviors and overwhelmed feelings are more a response to a current life situation, rather than a full-blown disorder. Perhaps the label used to satisfy insurance or to give medication, is doing more harm than good.

It’s not hard to walk into a doctor’s office and walk out with a diagnosis and a prescription.

To treat you, the doctor needs to assign a label for their records, to communicate with other health professionals and for insurance purposes. They use a tool called the DSM 5-TR (Diagnostical Statistical Manual).  I’ve used it many times as a counselor working with insurance.  However, to be honest, I could have labeled myself and several people I knew with many of the labels found in the DSM at any given point in time.  It gives you a checklist of symptoms that someone might be experiencing under each label.  If you have a certain number of those, boom, you get the label.

Sadly, too often these labels become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’ve met so many adults who shared that they were diagnosed Bipolar as a teen.  Over the years, their life situations changed, and they learned positive ways to heal and are living beautiful lives.  They were never actually Bipolar; they were exhibiting extreme behaviors due to not knowing how to handle really hard situations and big emotions.  However, the weight of the label made them close in, isolate, and fear their future. Many were put on strong medications to manage symptoms. For some they turned to self-medicating to numb themselves.  Sometimes the diagnosis is real, but often I wonder if we need to spend more time looking at the “why” they might be struggling. Then teach them the “how” to heal, before the label is ever considered.

Perhaps, there are times when it would be best to not label, but instead encourage?

Could it be that much of what is being diagnosed as a disorder is really just a normal reaction to deep pain, trauma or suffering?  Is it really maladaptive to have prolonged sadness if you don’t have any friends, if you hate your job, if you have a hard time learning, if you’ve lost someone you deeply loved, if you don’t fit into society in the way you’ve been told you should? Wouldn’t it be normal for those life stressors to cause pain, anger, sadness, numbness, anxious thoughts?

We are all humans, we all go through stuff, we all can grow, learn, and heal.

Please allow us the dignity of having a rough season without labeling us with a disorder.  Don’t put a timeline on our grief, don’t put a label on our angry outbursts following our parents’ separation. Walk alongside us, give us support, change society’s expectations that all should fit a certain mold, and help us heal without the heavy labels and attaching normal reactions to disorders.

Always remember, whatever label someone put on you has nothing to do with your future, your abilities, or who you are.  It’s merely a snapshot of a day in a moment in time.  You aren’t a soup can.  Cast off your label and go live your life.

 

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