Bitterness as a Mental Disorder?

By Christopher Lane, Psychology Today

No one could accuse the American Psychiatric Association of missing a strain of sourness in the country, or of failing to capitalize on its diagnostic potential. Having floated “Apathy Disorder ” as a trial balloon, to see if it might garner enough support for inclusion in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the world’s diagnostic bible of mental illnesses, the organization has generated untold amounts of publicity and incredulity this week by debating at its convention whether bitterness should become a bona fide mental disorder.

Bitterness is “so common and so deeply destructive,” writes Shari Roan at the Los Angeles Times, “that some psychiatrists are urging it be identified as a mental illness under the name post-traumatic embitterment disorder.” “The disorder is modeled after post-traumatic stress disorder,” she continues, “because it too is a response to a trauma that endures. People with PTSD are left fearful and anxious. Embittered people are left seething for revenge.”

Now I grant that there’s a lot of anger and bitterness out there. How much of it should be attributed to the last Republican administration? The question straddles psychology and politics, I concede, but in the eyes of many Americans that administration managed in eight years to bring a largely healthy economy to its knees.

To many Americans, there are additional reasons for bitterness at that outcome. The Bush administration led the country into a protracted, illegal war, based on trumped-up evidence; ignored memos that said the country faced credible terrorist threats; locked up large numbers of suspects afterwards without trial or due process; lied to its citizens about the widespread use of torture; eliminated every sensible, necessary check on financial regulation to prevent a fiscal meltdown; mocked the facts of climate change; and sat on its hands as Hurricane Katrina devastated a large city.

Heaven knows, there are reasons enough to be bitter about the untold number of opportunities squandered, the problems that have escalated in their place, and the crises now with us that were once entirely avoidable.

But when justified anger at such incompetence is discussed as a sign of mental illness, it is borderline insulting, especially because half the reason for the discussion is to ensure that drug companies—anxious to prod their faltering revenues—can promise relief from the alleged disorder with yet more pharmaceuticals.

Imagine, if you will, the inevitable ads: “Think it’s just bitterness from job loss, foreclosure on your home, or that nonexistent pension for which you’ve been saving all your working years? It may be ‘post-traumatic embitterment disorder,’ a mental illness that some doctors think is due to a chemical imbalance . . .”

Read the rest here.

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