Did Droopy Just Have Depression?


There's an amusing story in today's Wall Street Journal about medical students using fictional television and movie characters to learn how to diagnose psychiatric disorders. Hundred-Acre Wood Ashdown Forest (where Winnie the Pooh lives) might as well have been a psychiatrist's waiting room:

Piglet clearly suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, the authors noted. Eeyore has chronic dysthymia (mild depression) and could benefit greatly from an antidepressant. Tigger is hyperactive, impulsive and a risk-taker.

The piece is lighthearted, but it brings to mind a more serious concern: If you can diagnose cartoons with depression, how much more rigorous is the process for humans? And at what point does being Oscar the Grouch become a disorder? The unsatisfying answer is that it's difficult to tell; the tools we use for mapping out human emotion -- observation, patients' self-reports -- are still quite crude.

But this shouldn't become fodder for those who argue psychiatric disorders aren't real or that the FDA should take psycho-pharmaceuticals off the market. Doctors may pathologize and pull out their prescription pads for, what may just be "unruly teenager syndrome." No doubt profit-hungry pharmaceutical companies also contribute to antidepressants and other medications being overprescribed. But the fact of the matter is that psycho-pharmaceuticals as well as behavioral and cognitive therapy have helped millions live more productive, happy lives. For the time being, we may be using a sledgehammer on a nail, but that should compel us to proceed with caution and work to develop more refined tools -- not drop the hammer.

-- Gabriel Arana

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