I can hardly wait to get a look at DSM-5, the next revision of the Bible of mental illness diagnosis, when it comes out next year. The current, fourth edition is just so entertaining, so endlessly full of weird ideas.
Some make more sense than others. I thought I was reasonably familiar with most of the common conditions modern-day psychology has identified, but somehow I missed Oppositional Defiant Disorder. It’s how you diagnose a misbehaving child – as the National Institutes of Health puts it, “a pattern of disobedient, hostile, and defiant behavior toward authority figures.”
Acting out. Rebelling. Chafing under the restraints of authority. Disorderly conduct – hence a disorder.
Now, I don’t mean to imply that there aren’t kids whose aggressive, confrontational behavior rises to the level of a “disorder.” Two points, though:
1) A better name, please. The calm, rational tone of terms like “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” feeds the inclination to bash what feels more and more like an overpathologizing society. The name should reflect the out-of-control aggression that sensible diagnosticians (one hopes) will observe before applying the label.
2) Semantics aside, the psychiatric powers-that-be should watch out for actual overpathologizing. The doctor who chaired the DSM-IV task force worries that the new edition will make it “too easy to classify ordinary childhood behavior as mental conditions. This is a charge he believes that his own draft of the DSM (published in 1994) was itself guilty of in the case of ADD, autism and (indirectly) childhood bipolar disorder, despite their best intentions.”
With that in mind, herewith please find a short catalog of famous Oppositional Defiant Disorder sufferers. Let us pray for their poor afflicted souls.
1) When Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote The Gulag Archipelaglo in an inexplicable fit of cage-rattling, surely he was suffering from Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
2) When “Dirty Harry” Callahan disobeyed orders to pursue a serial killer in his own way, he too was in the throes of Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
3) When hundreds of thousands of Egyptians rallied in Tahrir Square to depose longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak, they were obviously undergoing a kind of collective Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
4) ODD runs in families. When Sarah Palin “goes rogue,” she’s struggling with ODD. When her teenage daughter gets pregnant, defying her parents’ essential conservative mores, that’s another generation of ODD.
5) ODD figures strongly in the artistic tradition. A critic disparaged Jackson Pollock’s art as a “mop of tangled hair.” The crowd booed at the debut of Stravinsky’s dissonant “Rite of Spring” in 1913. Of course, we embrace our rebels too; when John Cougar Mellencamp wrote “The Authority Song” (“When I fight authority, authority always wins”) he was admitting to a severe and apparently uncontrolled case of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, but was also channeling his own acting-out in a useful creative direction. Hooray, John! (Let’s not even get started on David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” – talk about a textbook case of ODD.)
It’s just awful what these poor artists, musicians, fictional characters, and oppressed citizenries have suffered in their ODD-afflicted childhoods. Let’s hope future generations of medical researchers find a cure for this dreadful scourge.