06/27/2013 04:02 pm ET Updated Aug 27, 2013

My 'Sad Day' Turned Into a Clinical Diagnosis for Depression: The Problem With a Problem-Centric Approach to Mental Health

If I tell a therapist that I had a "sad day," does that mean that I am clinically depressed? If I'm going through a big life transition -- new school, new job -- and I mention that I'm nervous, does that mean I have an adjustment or anxiety disorder? These are common conclusions drawn by professionals who feel compelled to identify a problem where, sometimes, no real problem exists. When it comes to health --especially mental health -- the way we view, diagnose and treat it is backwards.

"I just met with my therapist and she said..."

If you meet with a therapist or psychiatrist and insurance covers the visit, you walk out with a diagnosis. In order for the therapist to get paid, they must assign you a problem so they have something to fix. A diagnosis immediately labels you with a disorder. This is the real problem. Too often, a small issue is diagnosed and becomes greater by virtue of being labeled. Once you have been labeled, there is an overwhelming desire to fix that problem. This approach automatically forces you into negative thinking.
In my opinion this is due, in part, to the fact that our societal (and medical) solutions seem to be on a racecourse to classify and treat normal behaviors as problems.

As a society, we focus on the problem, not the prevention.

What If We Adopted A "Prevention-Oriented" Approach?

Should our current approach of "problem-oriented" become "prevention-oriented"? I think so. The emphasis on prevention is waning -- far too rapidly. I must argue, from both an ethical and a common sense perspective, that there is something wrong with a problem-oriented focus. It is time for us to rely less on therapy and more on mentoring, with our families and our communities as the first choice for prevention. Our current and future happiness and success is based on what is achieved through a combination of what we learn from teachers, family, community and mentors. If we lived in a prevention-oriented society, maybe our "sad day" would simply be an opportunity to make the next day great and there would be no labels and/or diagnoses attached.

Perhaps we would think about all the possibilities and opportunities life holds, and just move forward -- in a positive way vs. dwelling on the interpretation of my "sad day" as a diagnosis of depression. This pattern is what creates our problem-oriented society.

Why Staying Connected Is Important

We have an innate desire to be connected with people, our communities, our families and our elders. If we can foster these connections, we not only help make a more emotionally connected world, but also a more positively supportive society.

Of course there is a need for psychiatry in certain cases. But in my opinion, the percentage of the population requiring it is far lower than our current approach acknowledges. We can create a world that is not problem-centric, a world that allows us to have an occasional "sad day" without requiring us to be labeled with a diagnosis.