Psychology Today Article Review “A Psychiatric Diagnosis is Not a Disease”

This week I read a fantastic article in Psychology Today that highlights one of the primary issues with bipolar diagnosis and treatment. The article titled “A Psychiatric Diagnosis is Not a Disease” by Jonathan Shedler, Ph.D., points out that the diagnoses listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) identify descriptions of symptoms, not causes.
In the article Dr. Shedler states,

“Confusion arises because medical diagnoses often point to etiology—underlying biological causes. This is why “chest pain” is not a disease, it is a symptom. Atherosclerosis, myocarditis, and pneumonia are diseases. They are underlying biological conditions that can cause chest pain.

Psychiatric diagnoses are categorically different because they are merely descriptive, not explanatory. It’s not that we don’t know their causes yet. It’s that DSM diagnoses cannot speak to causes, now or ever. The DSM was not designed to speak to causes, only describe effects.”

The problem with the DSM diagnosis of bipolar disorder is that it promotes the misconception that an underlying cause has been identified when in fact the diagnosis is simply describing a symptom cluster.

Dr. Shedler further clarifies:

“The ever-expanding list of entries in the DSM sound a lot like medical diseases, especially with the ominously-appended term disorder, but they are not. If we speak of generalized anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder as if they were equivalent to pneumonia or diabetes, we are committing a logical fallacy called a category error. A category error means ascribing a property to something that cannot possess it—like emotions to a rock.”

A bipolar diagnosis does not need to be a life-sentence. If you become curious about what is causing your bipolar symptoms and then treat the source of the symptoms, you can heal.

To learn more about healing your bipolar symptoms, check out The Mindset Shift to Heal Bipolar Part Three: The Steps to Heal Your Disorder.

Introducing Scott Ninneman from Speaking Bipolar

Several months ago Scott’s Speaking Bipolar popped up in my Instagram feed. He was followed by some of the people I follow, and I love the content he puts out. So often content you find on social media regarding bipolar disorder is heavy and even negative. Scott provides positive, encouraging content about bipolar that I love. I started following Speaking Bipolar and regularly share his posts to my Instagram stories.

I was so excited and honored when Scott reached out to me to exchange blog posts. I love Scott’s post Turning Your Lemons Into Lemonade: How to Make the Most of Difficult Situations because it is characteristic of his compelling and positive writing style and highlights the hopeful and encouraging messages he offers to his readers.

The following is my interview with Scott.

Q: Tell us a little about your mental health history.

After spiraling downward for months, a friend broke down the door to my rented mobile home and physically pulled me away from a table covered with colorful pills. He and his wife drove me to a psychiatric hospital and saved my life. It was while I was there that a doctor first told me I had bipolar disorder. It was spring 1995, and I’d love to say I made a quick turnaround, but it was over 30 medications and three and a half years before I finally felt I was in a good place. Treatment has come a long way since then, and I don’t believe it would take near that long if I was starting my bipolar journey today.

Q: Why did you start the Speaking Bipolar blog?

I started my blog in the middle of the night during a manic episode. A few months prior, I lost a good friend to mental illness. I was stuck in the moment and couldn’t get him out of my head. Logically, I knew I couldn’t change anything, but I had an overpowering need to do something. So, I pulled out my credit card and started a blog. I couldn’t help my friend, but I could be a voice of validation for others who were suffering alone.

“I couldn’t help my friend, but I could be a voice of validation for others who were suffering alone.”

Scott Ninneman

Q: Do you feel like creating a blog is your purpose? 

I didn’t at first. I just wanted to be a light in the dark for someone. As I’ve grown, online writing has become my passion. It motivates me to get up every day. If my readers learn only one thing from me, I want them to know a mental illness diagnosis is not the end of their life. Dreams don’t have to die, and the rest of your existence won’t be one full of suffering. You can find stability and lead a full life even with a condition like bipolar. I’m no one special, and if I can find stability, I believe anyone can. I want to help people get there.

Q: What are your favorite three posts, and why do you love them?

Speaking Bipolar — A Mental Illness Translator

It’s not the best example of my writing skill, but it means so much to me because it was the first time I peeled back the bipolar veil and dumped everything on the page. In Speaking Bipolar — A Mental Illness Translator, I dropped my guard and invited people in. It was the start of connecting with my readers on a deeper level. In the years since I wrote it, it’s the number two most-read piece. Nearly 20% of my traffic every month starts on that story.

The Worst Part of Having Bipolar Disorder

I wrote The Worst Part of Having Bipolar Disorder during a string of dark days. It was after I made the shift to writing primarily positivity posts, but something I had to get out of my head to move forward. About a dozen readers reached out to me the week I published the piece. They wanted to know that I still have bad days. Each thanked me for sharing my struggles. The story reminded me how important it is to show all sides of bipolar.

Beast Within—A Poem About Mental Illness

For a long time, I published a new poem almost every week. After a reader poll revealed nearly half of my readers don’t like poetry, I stopped posting as much, but this poem has special meaning to me. I love writing poetry because reducing your feelings to a limited number of words makes you go deeper. Beast Within reflects how I feel every day.

‘ After my bipolar diagnosis, it was all some people could see. I was the “bipolar guy,” and it devastated me.’

Scott ninneman

Q: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned about mental illness?

No one is just one thing. It’s easy to put people in categories. Like sorting mail, we stick new acquaintances in boxes based on what we know about them. After my bipolar diagnosis, it was all some people could see. I was the “bipolar guy,” and it devastated me. I fought hard to make people see I was still the friend, brother, and writer I always had been. The better I learned to battle my foe, the more I learned it was only part of me, and not the most important piece. I realized that if I was so faceted, so was everyone else. Now, I strive to get to know people. You can find common ground with almost everyone, so I look for a place where we can connect.

“If none of my other words ever make an impact, I know I am successful. I reached someone who needed it, and there’s no greater feeling than that.”

scott ninneman

Q: What is the best experience you’ve had since starting your blog?

One reader reached out to tell me reading my content saved their life. For the first time, they felt understood and knew they weren’t alone. I keep every email I receive from readers, but that one has a special place. I started my blog hoping to help at least one person. If none of my other words ever make an impact, I know I am successful. I reached someone who needed it, and there’s no greater feeling than that.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

Wow, there are so many. Being bipolar, I have 500 projects in mind and struggle with carrying any of them to completion. My big focus right now is my Positivity Club. Writing five posts for it each week keeps me busy, but I plan to turn those posts into books and publish one or two a year. I’m also working on a course about how to understand and thrive with bipolar disorder. I hope to finish that in the next few months.

Scott is such an amazing advocate for the upside of having bipolar disorder. Follow him on his blog and on Instagram and Facebook. I also HIGHLY recommend his FREE 30 Days of Positivity–a daily email that counts down his top 30 reasons to remain positive. He really has turned his Lemons into Lemonade, and his insights and experience can help you do the same.

Below are additional links to his social media and products.

Social Links

Blog

Instagram

Medium

Facebook Page

YouTube

Product Links

FREE 30 Days of Positivity Product Page

Bipolar Disorder Symptom Checklist Page

Speaking Bipolar Positivity Club