Labeling, categorizing people is dehumanizing

This letter is in response to the AP article that was in the 1/14/14 Alpena News having to do with mental health screening and counseling in our schools. The article, though really serves to highlight what is wrong with our current systemic approaches in attempting to be helpful and in solving psychological and social problems. The article cites a fifteen year old struggling with the reality that his father has been diagnosed with cancer but that the identified helping this young man cope with that reality is to have him undergo a mental health screening where he is then diagnosed with “major depressive disorder.” This certainly begs the questions as to what fifteen year old would not be emotionally impacted by having a parent dealing with cancer and why there is the need to identify his reactions and coping as a disorder.

The process of labeling or categorizing people is inherently dehumanizing and, thus, not psychologically helpful. The mental health screening is also not a helpful effort and has a rather duplicitous history. The behavioral screens or checklists were primarily developed and implemented by the various drug companies in order to expand the psychiatric drug market especially in such, at the time, untapped and potentially large markets as nursing homes, primary care health settings and schools.

Clearly, there is the need to provide genuine psychological help in our schools because so much of our societal pathos (e.g. violence, bullying, sexism, racism, narcissism, etc.) is played out in our schools but that such efforts should not be guided by mental health screens and labeling people as disordered but instead should be guided by compassion, empathy and our sense of shared humanity.

Ted. R. Stiger