How Every Day Sadness Can Be Misdiagnosed – What’s the Real Story?


I am often asked to “fix” people who are sad, nervous, angry, tired, worried; and many would assume that this is a reasonable ask of therapy.   I agree that there is certainly a level at which therapy is recommended when these “emotions” persist, increase beyond ‘normal’ or interfere with everyday life.

However I am often struck by the rush to diagnose and prescribe the standard human emotions.  We know that if people suppress these emotions that it has profound impacts on their physical and mental health; and eventually these (or other) emotions ‘leak out’ in symptomatic ways.

Sadness becomes depression; nervous energy moves into anxiety or panic attacks; anger becomes aggression.

“However I am often struck by the rush to diagnose and prescribe the standard human emotions.”

Yet as a society we tend to demand that simple emotions are suppressed.

 “Calm down”;

“Cheer up”;

“Take a chill pill”;

“Ease up” and many more.

Conditioned to Ignore Our Emotions As Childrenmom-scolding-child

From young children we are told that our emotional responses (however reasonable and justified) are to be ignored or managed to the point of suppression.

The habitual ignoring of emotions and how they present physiologically (in our body) and cognitively (in our mind), disconnects a person ability to track emotions in the body and manage them as they escalate.

Within this prior recognition, escalations go unnoticed, and emotions become dysfunctional behaviours:

  • road rage,
  • aggressive outbursts of violence towards others,
  • self-harm,
  • suicide,
  • panic attacks,
  • chronic depression.

Representative Case Study

Reasonable human emotions all too often present as a diagnosed mental health condition.  One such case involved a 40 year old woman whose husband of 16 years had (without warning) moved out and ended their marriage just three weeks earlier.  She was devastated, confused and struggling.  All reasonable reactions, in my ‘professional opinion’.

Yet her referral to me clearly labelled “adjustment disorder”.  Her referrer had determined that three weeks was sufficient time for her to gain control of her feelings and mange her emotions better.

Is 3 weeks really a REALISTIC time frame to expect someone to get over a MAJOR life event?

Is 3 weeks really a REALISTIC time frame to expect someone to get over a MAJOR life event?

 I should note that she was not aggressive towards anyone, had still functioned reasonable well at work and with her children, and had no thoughts about self harm in any capacity.  She was simply confused, sad and feeling significantly lost.

How is this a disorder, rather than a reasonable human reaction?  

I am not down playing the benefits of counselling or therapy for a woman like this, but I am astounded by the professional need to label such a women.  This results in clients presenting to our practice telling us that they are “going mad” when they are simply responding to their circumstances.

Other examples including ‘anxiety’ displayed by parents with seriously unwell children.  Again therapy can be enormously beneficial, but the label of ‘anxiety’ pathologizes and criticized the client – who by all accounts is experiencing a reasonable reaction to anticipated loss.

Sometimes is it also reasonable to be ‘sad’ without being labelled as depressed.  

Our busy lifestyles and reluctance to refuel can easily lead to a series of flat, low or sad days.  Again not necessarily clinical depression – perhaps just your bodies way of making you stop.

In no way is this a dismissal of genuine mental health conditions, simply a call to allow normal emotions to be, to exist and to be expressed – without the need to tell people that they are going crazy.

How do you feel about this?

Do you feel overwhelming pressure to be happy all the time and like it’s a BAD thing to have negative emotion? Please leave me a comment below and share how you feel about it.

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Categories: Health and Wellbeing.

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