Are you mentally ill or does your doctor just watch too much TV?

“Sybil,” a 1973 book that featured a woman with what was then known as multiple personality disorder, sold millions of copies. The 1976 television movie version of the story brought in tens of millions of viewers. The hype even transcended the decades when it was made into yet another TV movie in 2007. What was […]

“Sybil,” a 1973 book that featured a woman with what was then known as multiple personality disorder, sold millions of copies. The 1976 television movie version of the story brought in tens of millions of viewers. The hype even transcended the decades when it was made into yet another TV movie in 2007. What was then a very rare diagnosis suddenly became more and more common, and today we call it dissociative identity disorder.

Everyone loves (or despises) a chicken or the egg situation because it really makes you think. But how does the media and the entertainment industry really affect mental health diagnosis? The New York Times took a look a the phenomenon:

When an unusual disorder draws so much attention, as this one did for a time, the public may become understandably confused about how prevalent it truly is. Even with medical conditions that are less controversial and far more familiar to most Americans, questions arise. Consider a developmental disorder like autism or Asperger syndrome. A federally supported study in 2013 found that the likelihood of a school-age child’s receiving such a diagnosis had risen 72 percent in just five years. Cases of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have increased so starkly that it is now said to affect, at some point, 11 percent of Americans from ages 4 to 17. In 2007, researchers reported a 40-fold increase in the number of children and adolescents being treated for bipolar disorder. Do these striking statistics signal that the disorders are indeed increasing explosively, or have doctors simply gotten better at recognizing existing problems? Or, less reassuringly, are some of these conditions perhaps being overdiagnosed? Medical professionals themselves continue to debate such questions.