Originally created 11/30/97

Mental illness quandary



A good many area mental health providers recently attended a Legislative Committee public hearing in Augusta on proposals to gain parity for Georgians who suffer from emotional or mental health disorders.

Naturally, most attendees were all for expanding health care plans to include the mentally ill. If they get enough public support, they may even succeed in getting lawmakers to enact legislation along those lines.

But it will be a tough sell - not because the public doesn't have sympathy for emotionally troubled people or that such people aren't deserving of coverage.

The problem is even if the bill tightly defines what mental illness is and links it to physical causations, such as a chemical imbalance in the brain, bureaucrats and the courts may not take such a narrow view when they translate legislation into rules and law.

To many in the mental health field, there's no limit to what should be covered. Columnist John Leo, writing in a recent U.S. News & World Report, cites just some of the disorders listed in the psychiatrists' professional bible, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

They include, in addition to common depression, caffeine-induced anxiety disorder, inhalant abuse, telephone scatologia (heavy-breathing sexual phone-calls), Internet addiction disorder, cigarette addiction disorder and, likely soon to be added, "road rage" disorder.

DSM has apparently never heard of people taking personal responsibility for their conduct. Every aberrant behavior is a disorder that requires medical treatment.

What's really going on here is that the mental health profession - not all of it, but a very influential part of it - is redefining all life's stresses and bad habits as a mental or emotional illness. If activist rule-writers and judges ever come to accept this generous, unrealistic view of mental illness then nearly everyone in America would need treatment, and not even multi-billionaire Bill Gates could afford to pay his health insurance premiums.

There's one way to prevent that from happening, though: be very careful about what mental illnesses are allowed into health care plans. Let's not open a Pandora's box.