Friday, October 14, 2011

Diagnostic expansion and Orgasm, Inc.

Duncan Double last month made a call (or, I should say, joined the call) for "No more psychiatric labels." I was struck by the extremity of the demand, but its reasoning and subtleties become more clear if you read his longer piece about it and this piece by Allen Frances about the DSM-V. A recent article in Society and Mental Health, "Creating an Age of Depression: The Social Construction and Consequences of the Major Depression Diagnosis," also gives a sense of the validity problems faced by these diagnoses as well as their consequences.

I happened to read Double's post just after I saw the film Orgasm, Inc.

As a documentary, it's not spectacular, often seeming unfocused and employing some unnecessary gimicks and misplaced humor. (It would have been a better film, I think, had it centered around Leonore Tiefer and the Berman sisters.) But the story and the issues the movie addresses carry it along.

One aspect that caught my attention was the film's engagement with diagnosis, stigma, and shame. A claim I frequently hear in discussions of mental problems is that their medicalization has removed - or, more typically, is in the course of removing - some alleged stigma. I've never been much convinced of this, particularly at a time when the number of psychiatric diagnoses continues to rise, enveloping more and more areas of life and ordinary difficulties that had not previously been stigmatized. In the particular case of "female sexual dysfunction" it would be a hard sell: the label plainly redefines (at least some) regular life experiences as problems in need of treatment. The larger story concerns the frightening power of corporations and other groups to transform,* in their own interests, the way people think and feel about their most intimate experiences and problems and their causes.

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