In Chapter 11 of The Psychopath Test, “The Avoidable Death of Rebecca Riley,” Jon Ronson discusses the idea that many of the mental disorders in the DSM are probably inaccurate and not actual disorders. However, because the American society likes conformity, people are comfortable labeling themselves with disorders in order to explain their odd human behavior. The chapter begins with Ron attending a Scientology banquet and hearing a speech from Lady Margaret McNair about how most mental disorders (and psychiatry) are absurd. Ronson says that the large number of mental disorders can be attributed to Robert Spritzer, a past editor of the DSM-III. He then mentions an experiment done by David Rosenhan to show that psychiatry was ridiculous. Rosenhan and 7 friends pretended to hear voices in their heads, but otherwise acted normally. Until they pretended to be mentally ill and “get better,” the hospitals that they were in refused to let them leave. When Rosenhan spoke up about his experiment, one hospital claimed that they would be able to spot fakes in the future. They then said that 41 people had been sent by Rosenhan even though he had not sent any. Spritzer, after hearing of this, decided to eliminate the errors that human judgment brings to psychiatry by composing checklists for every possible mental disorder in the DSM-III. He was largely successful, and many American’s began diagnosing themselves with the new DSM. Allen Frances eventually replaces Spritzer and said that it was their fault for misdiagnosing people with Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Childhood Bipolar Disorder. Ron then speaks of Bryna Hebert, who believes that her children are bipolar. Ronson also speaks with David Shaffer who believes that children diagnosed with Childhood Bipolar Disorder actually have ADD. The chapter ends with the story of Rebecca Riley, a child diagnosed as bipolar who dies when given an overdose of her medication.
After reading that a lot of mental illnesses are probably misdiagnosed, Childhood Bipolar Disorder in particular, I started to question the validity of psychiatry. I don’t know enough about the subject to disagree with the profession of psychiatry completely, but when hearing about Rebecca Riley’s death because of her overdose, I can’t help but think that she died because of the carelessness of doctors and from people being over-eager to categorize those who are different. My biggest question is about the mysterious book. What did it mean!?