In chapter 10 of The Psychopath Test, Ronson suggests that the number of people being misdiagnosed with nonexistent mental disorders has been blown out of proportion. He begins the chapter by describing a strange ceremony hosted by Scientologists that he had attended in which a woman by the name of Lady Margaret McNair spoke about the outrageous mental disorders the DSM has invented. She seemed to be implying that people are increasingly being labeled as having mental disorders, though they may be displaying nothing more than complicated human behaviors. Ronson believes that the source of these newfound mental disorders lies with a man named Robert Spitzer. As a former editor of the DSM-III, Spitzer believed that by accepting as many new proposed mental disorders and their corresponding checklists that he possibly could, he would be able to start eliminating human judgment from psychiatry. One reason he wanted to pursue this was because of an experiment that once brought about great embarrassment to the field of psychology involving a psychologist named David Rosenhan. In this experiment, Rosenhan and seven friends traveled to mental hospitals across America where they pretended to hear voices in their heads but otherwise showed no signs of mental disorders. All eight of them were diagnosed as insane and admitted to the hospitals. Upon hearing that it had all been a setup, one of the hospitals bet that they would be able to detect any subsequent fakes that would be sent to their hospitals. After a month, they claimed to have found 41 fakes; however, none had ever even been sent in the first place. The DSM-III series proved to be a large hit among the public because it enabled people to finally be able to place a name to their formerly undiagnosable behaviors. Though it was a large sensation initially, Allen Frances, the successor of Spitzer, believed that it was creating a false epidemic in psychiatry for Autism, Childhood Bipolar, and Attention Deficit Disorder. Ronson then discusses David Shayler’s theory that Bipolar disorder is really just ADD. He also tells of Bryna Hebert and her particularly manic son, Matt, who she believes is bipolar. Finally, Ronson ends the chapter with the story of a four-year-old girl named Rebecca Riley who was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and died as a result of an overdose on medication by her parents one night.
What makes diagnosing and detecting mental disorders in psychiatry so difficult is that there is no concrete evidence that can prove whether or not someone does or does not have a certain mental condition. In the health care field, when dealing with the physical aspects of the human body, a doctor may be able to take a blood sample and determine from a single drop of blood whether or not someone has sickle cell anemia, or cancer, or diabetes. Physical evidence provides concrete answers. When it comes to dealing with the cognitive aspect of the human body, however, that is where the lines become much more blurry. There are no specific identifiable genes (that I’m aware of) that indicate the presence of certain mental disorders. For instance, no “psychopath gene” has (yet) been identified. Because of this, people are forced to resort to making educated guesses – which I think is justifiable. I’d personally rather have educated professionals making educated guesses about mental disorders than having a bunch of untreated psychopaths running around without medical assistance. All I’m saying is that though errors, without a doubt, are bound to occur, a lot of good has still come out of making educated guesses. Indeed, there have been a lot of people who have been misdiagnosed and bad things have resulted from it; but overall, I feel that the benefits that we have seen through this “guessing,” such as treatment for erratic behavior, have outweighed the risks. On another note, I LOVED this book! It was very funny, insightful, and thought-provoking! Jon Ronson = new favorite author.