Anxious Musing: Why didn’t they teach this in school?

I’m gonna try to keep this one as light as I possibly can. However, in the interest full disclosure the topic itself is pretty dark. In general I am pretty outraged about the American education system, because it is broken, counter productive and frustrating. You can probably expect a post on it some time in the near future. For the sake of brevity I’m only going to focus on one very small area of the educational process for now, because it seems so outrageously damaging.

Like most people with any college education at all I’ve taken several classes in the field of psychology. All of these classes shard something in common, everything. I took a general Psychology class in high school, and an intro class in college as well as one on Freud and they were all exactly the same. Sure the window dressings were different, and they had minor alterations that I think can be attributed to the fact that they were taught by different people rather than their areas of study being any different at all from one another. Each class went over Freud’s five stages of psychosexual growth, B.F. Skinner’s behavioral experiments, John Dewey’s experiments in education, Carl Jung’s ramblings of a madman, and Ivan Pavlov’s animal abuse. We read about the objectively horrible Stamford Prison experiment, the nearly as bad Milgrim shock experiment, and the boringly named Blue Eye Brown Eye experiment. I half paid attention to each of these lessons and did pretty well on the tests in which I needed to regurgitate the information. The purpose of all of these lessons was to show us how the brain is studied and how we’ve gotten to the point in psychology at which we are today. However as small tiny little foot notes all of the instructors for these classes would each off-handedly mention the most insignificant detail after these lessons. Modern psychologists have all but entirely disproved the results of those scientists as well as those experiments. They spent weeks cramming the findings of these dead white dudes into your head only to tell you that they were in fact batshit, and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Now that I’m removed from school I can see clearly how unquestionably idiotic these lessons were. If Freud were alive today he’d be considered a fringe psychoanalyst practicing a form of pathological, or pseudo-science. His ideas, while ground-breaking were entirely off the mark. Not only that, everyone knows it. I’m not a psychologist, I never planned on being one. I was an English major and was required by both my high school, and college to take those classes and I wouldn’t have done so otherwise. I felt like it was a waste of time to take classes outside of my field, especially when those classes were boring and all the same. As a graduate I see that they were also wastes of time because I didn’t learn anything that was either relevant or of any value. In fairness to my high school psychology teacher, she did teach us some pretty cool stuff. We read about stuff like catatonic schizophrenia, and dissociative identity ( or split personality) disorder. It was interesting and eye opening to see the way modern day people lived with such dibilitating disorders that had nothing to do with their physical body, only their mind. She mentioned a few other disorders like, bi-polar disorder, OCD and others that are popular but she never went into as much detail as she did about the ones where people hear voices. This made me draw some parallel between schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. I didn’t think the disorders were similar but I did think they were equally common. About that I was totally wrong, and it was entirely the fault of the teachers I had.

Bi-polar disorder, Depression, ADD, PTSD, Panic Disorder, OCD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder are a few disorders that fall into the “Mood Disorder” (MD) or “Anxiety Disorder” (AD) categories. It is estimated by the Center for Disease Control that about 5.4 million Americans suffer from ADHD alone while sufferers from all types of Schizophrenia is less than half that at 2.2 million. I know that there is some contreversey about diagnoses of ADHD, and that some people believe that doctors only prescribe children drugs like Ritalin just to shut them up. Even if that’s true ADHD is only one mood disorder. And according to different studies ADD is processed in the mind similarly to OCD. In the mind of someone with an AD or MD the there is little difference in the diagnosis. Insistant thoughts, bad dreams, difficulty focusing, suicidal thoughts, insomnia, strange eating habits, anxious emotions, general fears, difficulty relating to others, and irritablity are all possible symptoms to all of the MDs and ADs mentioned above. Even though they are considered separate diagnoses MDs and ADs are often diagnosed together. People with ADD tend to also suffer from Depression, or OCD, or (and especially) Generalized Anxiety Disorder. MDs and ADs, because so many of their symptoms are so similar, are usually not stand-alone problems in sufferers. All of this information I found out through my own internet research over the years, none of it through school.

If you read that paragraph and any of those symptoms, which are extremely common in those with ADs or MDs you should probably talk to a doctor. I’m not saying you have any sort of disorder, but you’d be much better off knowing whether or not you do, rather than doing nothing.

So, if MDs and ADs seem to be so common in the United States why don’t we teach about them in schools? I have no fucking idea, is why. They waste their time with Freud and Pavlov’s dogs and don’t focus on actual psychology that actually affects actual people. I am particularly sensitive to this because close to every single one of my loved ones sufferers from an MD or an AD or both. More than half of the family I live with are on medication for some disorder, or have been in the past. My first job was at the local Pizza Hut, I worked there for five years and several of the people there had an MD/AD. My next job was a convenient store where several people there were also sufferers. I just started a new job, and met a girl who told me she took anti-depressants. Many people with these disorders, however don’t take medication. I blame this on the schools.

Because of the ways these disorders are taught they are made to seem unusual, or in some cases funny. People make jokes about a kid they once knew who needed to turn the light switch on and off four times every night before bed, and everyone gets a laugh about funny little kid stories. In non of the quirky anecdotes of this nature was it ever mentioned that people who do things like that are usually internally tortured with thoughts that are telling that kid that “if he only turns off the light once his mother will die and it will be all his fault.” I saw my brother stare at a candy-bar wrapper on the floor in the mall for a good five minutes while we sat talking at a food court. He was shaking, and anxious and when I asked him what was wrong he pointed at the piece of trash and didn’t say anything. He eventually got up to throw it away. It turned out that he was envisioning an old man or woman slipping on the wrapper and breaking their neck. In his mind he would be to blame for their death and he was already dealing the guilt of killing someone by accident through his inaction. That is not a cutsie story, and I’m sorry for that. But, for people with ADs it is an extremely common thought process. Your ideas eat at your and you feel trapped by the things you imagine, and feel guilty for scenarios you’ve dreamed up. Sometimes people will imagine something like a brutal rape scene that involves their sister, and they are totally powerless to stop thinking about it, and then feel guilty because they couldn’t stop running the scenario through their head. Again, if this sounds at all familiar to you see a doctor.

I am a very laid back person. I have no insistent thoughts. Things don’t normally bother me, and something has to be really shitty for me to complain about it. When my girlfriend told me that she was crying because of the things she was thinking, I didn’t understand. I was even more confused when she wouldn’t tell me what she was thinking about. She was able to get help. Which is good, because she had honestly no idea that people didn’t live that way. She was under the impression that other people would routinely plan things like their own suicide, or horrific death and that other people were just better at dealing with it that she was. If only there was a body of educators that could tell young people that they may be suffering from a common Mood or Anxiety Disorder.

Even worse than not providing education about these easily treatable, and extremely common problems is the stigma against medication. You hear from people and the TV all the time “I don’t want to go to the doctor, all they want to do is medicate you and make you go away.” This is extremely harmful to those who can be helped by medication. Anti-depressants and drugs like Ritalin change the lives of people with MDs or ADs and usually for the better. Those pills ar popular, and not only because they can shut kids up. They work. If you experience a foggy feeling, or like your mental abilities have been dulled that means the medication is not working. When people say “they don’t feel like themselves” on anti-depressants they are sad about something in particular, or have some other issue. People diagnosed with Depression or General Anxiety and actually have those disorders will only fell better after proper doses of the correct medication. If you do talk to a doctor, and are prescribed the medication, and you take it everyday your life may improve drastically. And if it doesn’t, stop taking the pills. Too many people get hung up on the stigma of either being diagnosed with a mental disorder, or taking medication and they never take the steps to seek help. Public schools could do wonders in teaching people that there is nothing wrong with being treated if you are suffering. I mean, these are the same people that convince millions every year that cursive will be useful later in life, and that Columbus discovered America.

I guess this post wasn’t as light as I wanted it to be. Sorry about that. The next one will be funny, and probably about superheroes or something awesome. If you want verification for anything I was unclear about, you should Google it for yourself. I think it’s important that people become as educated as possible on MDs and ADs, because it’s education that will be most helpful in getting people the help the need and deserve. A really awesome article to read on the subject, from someone who actually has Generalized Anxiety Disorder as well as OCD would be ‘4 Things No One Tells You About Having OCD‘ by Mara Wilson (the little girl from Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire). There are countless others I’m sure, but she’s a really good writer and really funny.

I hope this helps someone.

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2 thoughts on “Anxious Musing: Why didn’t they teach this in school?

  1. I definitely agree with the sentiment that schools should take a more pragmatic approach to teaching psychology so kids can be better equipped to help themselves and their friends when they are experiencing these “disorders”. Save the theory and history of it for more specialized classes in college. Its interesting to learn but not helpful to a person actually suffering from one of these problems and the people around them who are also negatively affected. Cheers for this important post!

  2. Pingback: Storytelling Musing: 7 Poorly Represented Archetypes | The Drunken Musings

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