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It’s an interesting question isn’t it?

Right from the moment we are born (generally speaking), labels are without a doubt part of our everyday lives.

We label lots of things.  They help us identify things, tell us where to put things, how to use things, what’s inside things.

Heck even when we die we can look forward to a label can’t we?

But what do our labels say about us and are they always accurate?

Knowing that I have a personal interest in Mental Health issues someone approached me Sunday afternoon and told me they wanted to show me something.

Pulling up an article on their Iphone they then handed it to me and asked me to read about ODD.  Let me share with you some of the symptoms of ODD as listed in that article…

  • Is easily angered, annoyed or irritated
  • Has frequent temper tantrums
  • Argues frequently with adults, particularly the most familiar adults in their lives such as parents
  • Refuses to obey rules
  • Seems to deliberately try to annoy or aggravate others
  • Has low self-esteem
  • Has a low frustration threshold
  • Seeks to blame others for any misfortunes and misdeeds.

Now I can (in my head at least) here some of you saying, “Oh so ODD is another term for ‘teenager’.”  I can also (still in my head) hear my parents saying, “Oh so Kevin had (and still does to some extent have) ODD.” lol

The article I was shown and subsequently read, and from which the above quotes are taken, was on ‘Better Health Channel’ an the full article can be found here.

Incidentally, Better Health Channel is (and I quote)

The Better Health Channel (BHC) provides health and medical information that is quality assured, reliable, up to date, easy to understand, regularly reviewed and locally relevant. BHC does not have any advertising or sponsorship and is fully funded by the State Government of Victoria (Australia).

ODD stands for ‘Oppositional Defiant Disorder’ and the article states that…

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a childhood behavioural problem characterised by constant disobedience and hostility. Around one in 10 children under the age of 12 years are thought to have ODD, with boys outnumbering girls by two to one. ODD is one of a group of behavioural disorders known collectively as disruptive behaviour disorders, which include conduct disorder (CD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Now I don’t for one minute doubt that there are children for whom such diagnoses are perfectly appropriate.  But I do find myself concerned about this.

I can’t help wondering if sometimes we run the risk of labelling kids instead of identifying and dealing with the real issues.

It seems to me that very often conditions and disorders will become more prominent within the media and often it is almost as if they then become somehow  “trendy” as a result of it.

I know that might come across as somewhat unkind or even cynical and I really do realize that sometimes it can be a relief to have “something” on which to hang our hat (so to speak) or to identify as ‘the cause’.

But I do wonder if this isn’t sometimes a huge mistake and just too darn convenient.

I am very mindful here of the amount of folk I have heard who, on hearing about ‘such and such’ a condition or disorder, instantly respond with the words, “Oh I think I must have had that” or the words “I think that is what my son/daughter has or had.”

I of course do not mean to reduce or question the validity of the actual conditions or disorders here.  But I do question whether sometimes applying such labels can be all too easy and thus extremely counter-productive?

It is, I think far to easy to label things in an attempt to justify even excuse them and especially when it comes to children.

Let’s look at that first list (Symptoms of ODD) again for a moment.  But this time instead of looking for a stand-alone psychiatric or psychological disorder, let’s see how many of those behaviours fit as perfectly understandable responses to let’s say abusive, neglectful or dysfunctional home-lives…

  • Is easily angered, annoyed or irritated
  • Has frequent temper tantrums
  • Argues frequently with adults, particularly the most familiar adults in their lives such as parents
  • Refuses to obey rules
  • Seems to deliberately try to annoy or aggravate others
  • Has low self-esteem
  • Has a low frustration threshold
  • Seeks to blame others for any misfortunes and misdeeds.

It is very interesting isn’t it?

Now don’t get me wrong, I of course understand that the presence of the one can lead to the presence of the other and I don’t mean to suggest that if there is abuse, neglect or dysfunction, then we shouldn’t diagnose ODD, in fact the opposite is often more true.

But what I do mean however, is that instead of just labelling a child – or anyone else for that matter – and then shelving the whole thing and just treating the child, lets address the whole and real situation here too!

Labels can also have devastating effects!

According to the news report (which can be found here) The 15 year old boy (pictured above) was made by his parents to stand at a busy intersection on a Saturday as punishment for his poor grades. (Photo and article produced by http://hamptonroads.com – no copyright infringement intended.)

Healthy, helpful, positive labelling?  I think not!

Labelling has a purpose.  I don’t deny that.  But we have to be very careful about it don’t we?  Careful not to label things incorrectly.  Careful not to assign incorrect assumptions as a result of a label.  Careful to remember that often people misread labels or even (sadly) place their own false, incorrect and all too often unfair interpretations on those labels.

As folk who suffer from poor mental health many of us want to know what is happening to us, what is causing our experiences and having a specific diagnosis can understandably be something that many people who experience poor mental health actively want.

But it breaks my heart when I read or hear of folk who have been diagnosed with a psychological or psychiatric condition or disorder and who, as a byproduct of having that diagnosis – that label, seem to devalue and blame themselves or are blamed and devalued by others.  And let’s be honest here that happens so very much doesn’t it?

And it particularly saddens me when it happens with children.  As I was writing this piece and looking for relevant artwork I came across this video.  Check it out.  It is, in my opinion, extremely good…

As a writer and as someone who suffers from poor mental health I am very open about my mental health and I try very hard to actively combat the stigma that is all too often attached to mental health.

As I have said before in a previous post, Stigma has been defined as “A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person:”

Let us remember that those ‘marks’, those ‘labels’, often shape the way people view us, approach us, respond to us, interact with us or sadly all too often choose not to interact with us.

The truth is that diagnoses do not always have to become labels.  The truth is that indeed even though they do often carry the risk of becoming labels, as adults we do to some degree have some control over this and how we allow people to respond to our diagnoses.  I think we need to remember and remain mindful of that.

BUT even more than that I think we need to remember and always be mindful that children however, have far less control over that.

(Picture featured on Citizens Commission On Human Rights International website – well worth a visit – no copyright infringment intended.)