Do addict, mentally ill labels help or hurt?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Mental Health or Mental Illness

Mental Health or Mental Illness?
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Do most people accept labels like “addict” or “mentally ill?”

The use of labels to identify clients keeps coming up. Does having a label, a name, for your problem help you find answers, or does it stigmatize you?

The recovery movement often uses labels, usually self-applied to define the nature of their issue. Saying you are an Alcoholic helps you to understand the problem and what you need to do to overcome it. In this case, if you are really an alcoholic you should not drink.

In A.A. they don’t give out the labels. They present information and let people decide for themselves if the designation fits. This approach has a lot to recommend it.

Some people feel that giving out labels can be a barrier to recovery. If you say you are an addict then, of course, you will use drugs, the use of the label could be interpreted as a reason to stay in your problem rather than move towards a solution.

Personally, if I have a cough it makes a lot of difference to me whether I have an allergy or tuberculosis. I am frankly a lot suspicious of a doctor who wants me to take medication for my cough but does not want to tell me what is wrong with me for fear of labeling me.

People are not defined by their disorders. We should not refer to them as “the schizophrenic” or the “depressive.” We know that there are times the person with schizophrenia or another psychosis may not be experiencing symptoms or the symptoms may be milder. This sometimes is referred to as periods of lucidity. People with depression can get better.

Most people, in my experience, embrace these labels. They help define the challenge the person is facing. It is reassuring to know that you have a treatable disorder rather than to think that you are crazy or that there is something so wrong with you and there is no hope. What most people find is that there are lots of other people who are struggling with the same illness.

As a professional, I feel I owe it to a client to tell them what I think they are struggling with. Knowing the problem can suggest solutions. I don’t find it useful to argue with clients overdiagnosis. Whenever possible we start by working on the things the client thinks are problems for them. Help them find a job and the depression just may go away.

Sometimes people put too much trust in a diagnosis. What if the person who gave you that one was wrong? Learn to use that information, their view of what you are struggling with, and go from there.

Now if you have been given medication, I recommend you take it as prescribed. If it is not working or you are experiencing side effects, talk with the prescribing doctor before you make a sudden change, and please do not take a med only on the days you think you need it, unless the doctor prescribed it to be used that way.

Feel free to add other helpful things, like therapy, meditation, and a strong support system to your medication. Medication can only take you so far. Working on your recovery includes learning and practicing the skills you will need to maintain that recovery.

So as far as diagnosis or labels go, if they help your recovery, use them. If your label is getting in the way of your recovery don’t worry about what it is called and focus on your recovery skills.

My view – for most people labeling the problem is helpful, labeling yourself is not. You are, after all, much more than any one problem you may be struggling with.

For more on this whole label-diagnosis thing see also the posts on:

What is wrong with me?

5 Axis diagnosis esoterica

Is it a medical problem or a mental health problem?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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5 thoughts on “Do addict, mentally ill labels help or hurt?

  1. Pingback: 5 Rules for Helping and Being Helped | counselorssoapbox

  2. Great post, David! I agree that diagnosis can both help and hinder. I think so long as one doesn’t over-identify with a label and fall into victim mode, having a name for your experience can provide a great sense of not being alone.


  3. Hi Dave,

    I have nominated you for Blog of the Year 2012!
    Please check my recent post for information.
    I appreciate if you don’t have time to continue it, but I wanted to recognise you. 🙂



  4. I totally agree David! Being Bipolar doesn’t mean I can’t do everything a normal person can do! *laughing* Telling people only frightens them for lack of knowledge of your illness. I’m a good person and that’s all someone needs to know about me. Paula xxx


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