Wednesday, September 13, 2023
As I mentioned yesterday, I was feeling slightly depressed for a few days. So it was of some interest to me to hear that the upcoming iOS 17 would add features to the Health app to track mental health. Because mental health generally has a threshold problem. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) and its international counterparts, which are the “bibles” of mental health, usually define mental disorders as “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning”. So while it recognizes for example autism spectrum disorder as *being* a spectrum, it doesn’t really concern itself with people who are so far on the mild side of that spectrum that they can still function in society. But if you look at the definition of autism spectrum disorders as “characterized by deficits in social communication and social interaction, and repetitive or restricted patterns of behaviors, interests, or activities”, you probably know some people you called “nerds” that fall into this definition on the mild side. I certainly was that kind of guy at school and university, and had to work on my deficits in social communication and social interaction to overcome them. And yes, this blog is part of that process.
In a similar way, lots of people can feel mild depression sometimes, a sadness without reason. Or they can suffer from anxiety attacks. But as long as they can “get over it” and still go to work, this isn’t considered as a mental disorder. As opposed to physical illnesses, which we can identify and treat at much earlier and milder stages. We wouldn’t dream of waiting with a diabetes treatment until the patient was non-functioning from the illness. The threshold issue of identifying and treating lesser mental health problems can lead to other, more severe consequences; for example people “self-medicating” with drugs and alcohol, leading to addiction.
Society is getting better at recognizing lesser mental health problems and doing something about it. Mental health counselors are getting more common, also at schools. And Apple including mental health tracking on their iPhones is certainly also a step in the right direction. However, we are still far away from fully undertanding mental health problems, for example most of them can’t be easily tested for clinically. And the medication we have, for example antidepressants, is only recommended for medium and severe cases, and doesn’t really cover mild depression. Children with high emotional intelligence and low IQ are much more likely to get help from parents and at school than those with low emotional intelligence and high IQ, because the latter tend to have better grades, and their social deficits are considered less of a problem.