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When Is It “Mental”?

by Daniel on March 13th, 2012

Q.I recently was dumb enough to get a DUI charge. After attending the driver intervention school, I was evaluated by a reformed AA person. She wrote that I had mental health issues because I am ADHD and have a sleep disorder. Does this sound right? I have never been told that these were mental health issues. I was under the impression that they were serious health problems. This has given me some concern. If these are mental health issues, how do you define mental health?


A.Well, that’s a good question. What DOES fall into the category of mental health issues?

A. Technically, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sleep disorders (there are several kinds) are considered psychiatric disorders in the sense that they are listed in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition” (or “DSM-IV”), the official psychiatric diagnosis manual. That means they are considered to involve psychological or behavioral factors in addition to any biological components. For instance, some sleep disorders can be exacerbated by stress — and sleep disturbance itself can contribute to attention/concentration problems, mood changes (irritability, depression), etc.

The body and mind are so connected — stressors and psychological issues may affect the body – that one could really say mental health encompasses just about everything, while frequently overlapping with the territory of general health. In fact, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) doesn’t even separate mental health and general health — a TCM-trained physician, or acupuncturist, treats both at the same time.

If you have ADHD and a sleep disorder — not to mention a possible alcohol problem, which is definitely a mental health issue — you probably could benefit from psychological counseling or psychotherapy. (It sounds like you have received only medical treatment for the diagnoses, since you were surprised at the mention of mental health issues.) I hope the AA person who evaluated you made an appropriate referral. If not, you might ask for one, and discuss your questions further with him or her. Good luck.

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