The dangers of a diagnostic label

Lynne McTaggart

Friends of ours have a daughter in her late 20s I’ll call Rose who’s been through a rough patch lately. That’s not her real name, nor are many of the following details true to life—only true in essence.

After dutifully taking and passing a course in bookkeeping, even though math wasn’t her natural skill set, Rose embarked on a long series of jobs but never quite settled in, her boss or coworkers often belittling and bullying her for being a bit slow in her tallies. 

As a result, she didn’t stay long at these jobs but kept trying to going after similar jobs in a vain attempt to find work she could succeed at and contribute to the apartment she and her long-term boyfriend had purchased.

And then there was the boyfriend himself, who desperately wanted to fix her problems with work and other aspects of her life and thereby instill more confidence in her. They’d been together for years, but he refused to put a ring on her finger until she had sorted herself out. To that end, and with the best of intentions, he created lists each day of what she should be doing with her time to improve.

You know where this is going. Unable to keep up payments, they had to sell the flat.  The money, the lost jobs, her sense of failure all impacted the relationship. Soon after, they broke up. After years of investing in a particular future, her entire life had crashed at her feet. She went to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her problem as “anxiety” and wrote a prescription.

Although she’d hit rock bottom, this extraordinarily brave girl dusted herself off and began doing work in the arts, something she was naturally gifted at. Recently she held an exhibition. She looked radiant—better than I’d seen her in years. She’d finally found her calling, and her authentic self was beginning to shine through.

There was only one moment during her address to the attendees that gave me pause: when she spoke about how art has helped “my anxiety.”

That got me thinking about the dangers of a diagnostic label. It seems to me that any one of us who’d repeatedly tried to succeed at a job they weren’t naturally attuned to, whose partner considered them not quite good enough yet to marry, who lost their home, their relationship and their planned future all in a span of a year, would be suffering from anxiety.

The problem, of course, is the “my” part. Calling any illness “my” creates an identification with the condition as a permanent part of us, as permanent as the color of our eyes.

The same situation is now occurring with other forms of mental challenges. Take attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Since 2020, the diagnosis of ADHD has exploded. Between 2020 and 2022, the primary years of the Covid pandemic, 11.3 percent of children between five and 17 years old were diagnosed with ADHD, and many were likely given stimulant drugs.

That’s one in every nine kids who are now told they have a mental condition that somehow makes it impossible for them to ever focus naturally and who are given drugs that they may have to take for the rest of their lives.

The same occurred with the adult population. Again, by 2023, more than 10 percent of 23- and 24-year-olds were taking stimulant medication, including ADHD drugs like Adderall.

Think about that time period for a moment. In virtually all parts of the West and many other places, we were locked down, with children unable to attend school and young adults prevented from heading to a job, going out or seeing their friends.

Who wouldn’t be unable to focus if there was nothing much to focus on in life other than your computer screen? And all that screentime, used for gaming, TikTok and other rapid-fire videos only contributed to the attention problem. In fact, ADHD-related posts on social media exploded during that time.

Simultaneously, governments around the world allowed practitioners to diagnose ADHD and prescribe drugs online, including stimulants. And as stimulant drugs are highly addictive, they’ve become, in a majority of cases, a prescription for life. Many young people on these drugs are convinced that they cannot function without them.

What I’m getting at is that identification with a physical situation—whether “my heart condition,” “my arthritis,” “my cancer” or any other condition, no matter how long-term—hinders your ability to ever truly believe you can conquer it. Even if you’re receiving excellent medical care, some little voice deep in your soul tells you, “I’ll just have to learn to live with ‘my’ condition.”

I’m not saying that some situations (like an amputation) aren’t permanent. But there is great healing advantage in not identifying yourself with your condition.

Born with hip dysplasia, I walked normally until about nine years ago. For the next four years, my legs steadily worsened until I was having to walk with two sticks. What kept me going, until I found a complete solution, was to distance myself mentally from my physical condition.

One chiropractor I once consulted eyeballed my hobbling with alarm: “You’re a shadow of your former self,” he gasped.

No, I’m not, I thought emphatically. The active me is still very much here inside of me.

The “myself” I knew was a dancer, a HIIT class attendee, a power yoga enthusiast. I never stopped considering this struggle to walk a temporary impediment. And I now know that refusing to identify with that condition truly helped me to heal it.


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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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4 comments on “The dangers of a diagnostic label”

  1. Hola, buenas tardes. Esto no es una respuesta sino una petición. Recientemente me vi obligado a cambiar mi correo electrónico y quiero perder la comunicación con Lynne McTaggart. SERÍAN TAN AMABLES DE TOMAR EN CUENTA ESTA PETICIÓN CAMBIANDO MI DIRECCIÓN ELECTRÓNICA A: GRACIAS

  2. Thanks a lot for the relevant details you provide. Hope that you will always be able to write as many great posts as you can.
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