Last year, a government-sponsored survey about the nation’s mental-health (Schlagbyte June 20, 2005) found that one quarter of all Americans are suffering from some kind of mental illness. The study predicted that in our lifetime, half of us will develop a mental disorder. We don’t have to wait much longer to pad the numbers because psychiatry has created another mythical disease that will add another 15 million people. The current issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry has described a new disorder called Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) that targets adolescents.
Discovered by my colleague Dr. Emil Cocarro, Chief of Psychiatry at the University of Chicago, this disorder is defined as repeated uncontrollable anger attacks. He’s not talking about ordinary anger which we all exhibit, even occasional thoughts of murderous rage (Art Linkletter once said there were only two kinds of parents, those that sometimes wanted to kill their kids and those who lied). People with IED get so angry they threaten bodily harm, destroy property and assault people.
After interviewing almost 10,000 people 18 and older since 2001, Dr. Cocarro says IED is a major unrecognized mental-health problem, and 5% of the population suffers from it. When people lash out in road rage, spousal abuse or more severe transgressions, they have IED, and Dr. Cocarro believes it is his mission to make the public aware of this disease. He says, “If you don’t think it’s really a disorder you will never get treated for it, and it’s important to treat because otherwise it may set the stage for more serious mental conditions like depression, anxiety disorders and alcohol abuse.”
This “disease” typically begins at age 13 for boys, and 19 for girls. It lessens when you reach midlife — I presume because people have learned about the consequences of their behaviors and learned to modify them (we call this process cognitive behavioral therapy).
Not only has Dr. Cocarro pioneered the recognition of this disorder, he has also defined its treatment. You guessed it . . . it involves prescribing potent antidepressants and mood disorder medications like lithium and anticonvulsants. Let’s wake up people! “Intermittent Explosive Disorder” is not a disease of adolescents that requires chemical straitjacketing. It is the manifestation of a culture that has elevated violence to an art form. In an age of terror, violent videogames, brutalizing lyrics in songs, the new wildly popular blood sport “rage in a cage,” we are a culture that is becoming inured to violence.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has taken a public stand that media violence desensitizes children to its expression. We do not need more drugs to treat this mythical disease; what we do need is to tolerate less violence, set more limits on children and enforce consequences. Saying, doing, and getting everything you want is not a mythical disease, it’s called pathological narcissism.