• Eric Roberts

Social Virulence: The Watering Down of Mental Illness

Scrolling through the depths of social media one doesn't get far before they land a front-row seat to another juicy breakup, falling out of friends, or disowning of family members on the public stage of digital dramatics.

Often times ugly things are spouted either from one side, or both, name calling ensues, but a bigger issue arises as well. Accusations of mental illness within the opposing party.

More and more we are seeing labels like psychopath, narcissist, bi-polar and sociopath get tossed around like they don't actually have specific medical meanings. The truth is those disorders require a professional diagnosis rather than being haphazardly lobbed like a hand grenade from an amateur psychologist who scarcely passed intro to psychology.

It's fairly common these days to see "social media influencers" giving "expert tips" about how to spot and avoid narcissists and sociopaths without any proof that they've actually met one. Perhaps by a record statistical anomaly, most everyone going through the end of a relationship happens to have been "tortured" by a narcissistic significant other (<1% of population, mind you) until they made their gallant escape. If this is the case, we needn't worry about trying to be cautious in choosing a future interpersonal connection since the next person will have a clean bill of health until the relationship has run its course.

Fun Fact: Narcissism was no longer even going to be recognized as a diagnosable personality disorder by the American Psychological Association (APA) in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This was due to a general lack of evidence of the existence of the disorder or research to support it, however, it was once again included at the request of practitioners based on anecdotal experience.

Yet a quick search on video sharing and social media platforms will reveal an abundance of experts explaining how to spot, avoid, and even control narcissists –– as if that wasn't the most ironic plan.

Interestingly, despite the views of the APA, narcissism is claimed to be on the rise potentially due to what Gray (2014) eludes to being a hyper-focus on achievement and excessive praise of younger generations. If this is the case though, is narcissism an illness, or simply the social engineering of a generally self-centered inconsiderate population? Is it even abnormal behavior? The verdict is still out on that one.

The issue with carelessly labeling someone with a mental illness, sans evidence AND professional opinion, is that you are reinforcing stigmatization of those who actually have the illness while simultaneously adulterating the true gravity of the disorder. As a society, we need to be cognizant of the fact that words do have meanings, and use the right term for the right situation.

So the next time you want to go onto social media or vent to your friends about how your ex is a sociopath, or your boss is a narcissist, maybe just choose words that are credible such as describing their literal behavior. If all else fails you could always just say, "I didn't feel like they were very nice to me."





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