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krosania's picture

Culture, Disability, and "Broken Brains"

I was really surprised by the discussion we had in class about disability and culture, and at how many people seemed to agree that the responsibility lies with individuals and not the culture to correct or accommodate any deviations from the cultural norm. I definitely think the society as a whole should take on the responsibility for ensuring all of its members are equally valued within a culture, regardless of the differences among individuals. I agree that in extreme cases, such as individuals that engage in criminal or sexually deviant behavior, it is the individual that needs to change and not the culture, but I think that we can all agree that the term “disabled” as it is currently used applies to far more people than those that fit in either of these two categories.

I feel like I voiced my opinion a lot on this subject in class though, so I want to move on to the issue of the current conception of mental disorders, because I think it’s a really interesting one. I really agree with what some people have already said about the DSM model of mental disorders being fundamentally flawed. One of the main problems with it in my view is that for any particular disorder, a person can fit the diagnosis by displaying any combination of a varied assortment of symptoms. This means that two people who supposedly have the same disorder can look completely different from one another in terms of their behavior. Additionally, giving a name to a group of symptoms tell us nothing at all about the origins of these symptoms. For this reason, the diagnosis itself is not all that useful in determining a possible means of treatment for the patient. Neuroscientists like to think that we can match underlying neurological causes to particular mental disorders (for example, depression being caused by a deficit of serotonin). However, if this is the case, then why are there so many different types of antidepressants, some of which work for some patients and others not at all? It seems to me that labeling all people who exhibit the symptoms listed in the DSM under Major Depressive disorder as depressed does not really do much to help these people. I understand that most of these problems are due to limitations of our knowledge, but I think as a society we need to be careful about pretending we know more than we actually do. Until we know what actually causes the differences in behavior that are listed in the DSM as “disordered,” we as a society need to be more careful how we talk about, value, and treat these differences. I think in many cases it can do more harm than good to label someone as “disordered” (or, similarly,  “disabled”), especially in situations where neither the society nor the individual is equipped to do anything to remedy or accommodate the “disorder.”

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