4 Benign But Officially Recognized Mental Illnesses
Ah, the human brain: a pile of mysterious gray matter that allows us to function and think as human beings, and also a little house where all our nightmares live. It would be great if we could figure out how to use the tools the good lord gave us without also having anxiety and depression, but it looks like that’s just the price we pay. There are so many ways for our brains to go a little sour, in fact, that humans eventually had to stop going with the explanation of “demons inside head, exorcism or burning needed” and developed the medical field of psychiatry.
Part of establishing a medical field is detailed, thorough information. This is to prevent the generally discouraged strategy of “winging it.” For mental illness, the go-to tome is the DSM-5, standing for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. If there’s a way for your brain to go wrong, it’s most likely in there. That, of course, doesn’t always mean that it’s deadly serious. Among the devastating mental illnesses most are familiar with, there’s many more that fall closer to “highly inconvenient” than “danger to yourself and others” on the spectrum.
Below are four fairly benign mental illnesses officially recognized in the DSM-5.
Before we begin, though, it bears saying that regardless of how innocuous a condition may sound, severe cases can and do affect people’s lives in horrible ways. We’re not looking to make light of or mock anyone who might suffer from these, especially in a severe way — we’re just exploring the bare minimum a behavior demands before it has to be medically recorded. If you’re struggling with your own mental health in any way that is inhibiting your day-to-day life, I highly encourage you to seek support from a health-care professional.
Addiction is a horrible disease that has ruined countless lives throughout history, though the word “addiction” itself never appears in the DSM. Psychiatric professionals instead use the term “substance use disorder” or behavioral disorder for things like gambling. Most of the sort of substances and behaviors that people tend to fall into abusing won’t be surprising. However, there is one substance abuse disorder in the DSM-5 labeled as a “disorder requiring further research” that you could probably get away with out in the open at work without anyone raising an eyebrow.
It’s a substance even the teetotalers among us probably ingest on a daily basis: caffeine. You can develop a chemical dependence on caffeine, and those that take down impressive quantities of coffee constantly can indeed go through withdrawals, but overconsumption of coffee (or other forms of caffeine, for the Diet Coke or energy drink lovers) usually feels like the quirky personality trait of a real go-getter.
Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior Disorder
It’s a hell of a mouthful, and reading the DSM’s official name for it, it definitely feels like we’re approaching the realms of some hyper-pious monk self-flagellating, Dan Brown novel style. In reality, the vast majority of cases of Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior Disorder (which I’m going to refer to as BFRBD from here on out for my fingers’ sake) and believe me, there are a lot, aren’t overly serious. In fact, you almost definitely know someone who suffers from it.
That’s because it’s the umbrella under which things like nail-biting, hair-pulling and skin-picking live. I’m a trichotillomania enjoyer myself — there’s just nothing like yanking out a single beard hair to center the old noggin. Now, some people do have extreme cases of these sorts of activity. There are those who pick themselves bloody and bald, and these severe cases can be deeply horrific. For the vast majority of us suffering from a touch of BFRBD, though, it’s closer to bad manners than a mental horror. Though if you’re a nail-biter, you can feel a whole lot more metal calling yourself an onychophage instead.
Illness Anxiety Disorder
This is a disorder that’s often used as shorthand in movies to indicate an especially anxious character. As you might be able to guess via some context clues, this is the clinical name for hypochondria. It’s pretty understandable that they wanted to get away from the “hypochondriac” label, since it’s a commonly used insult at this point. Again, serious cases can lead to severely damaging behavior, where people are terrified to live their lives because of a fear of illness.
However, the tamer variants are widespread and are probably more harmful to people’s medical bills and rapport with their physician than in a physical sense. Especially given that we’re working through an honest-to-god pandemic at the moment, it’s not an easy one to wean anybody off of right now, either.
If you’ve ever watched My Strange Addiction, you’re probably familiar with pica. For the entire run of that show, it was their bread-an- butter. Or should I say, their soap-and-bricks. Pica is the name for an urge to consume non-food items. It can come in almost infinite variations, which makes sense given that almost infinitely more things aren’t food than are food.
Now, again, how benign this behavior is depends entirely on what their unusual meal of choice is. Some people can face serious health problems because of the particular material they’re compelled to eat. However, there are also people with pica whose strange snacking habits don’t have any serious negative physical effects, perhaps like the kid from elementary school who had an occasional taste for paste. Some pica sufferers even make a living out of it, like Michel Lotito, or Mr. Mangetout (Mr. Eat-All), who is strongly suspected to have had pica. It’s pretty believable, given that he once ate a whole plane.