Is Misophonia Mental Illness? What are the facts and theories?
The important question to ask when determining the misophonia mental illness debate is to define, at least quickly, what a mental illness is, because a lot of people are unsure what constitutes mental illness. There is a general consensus within the medical and advocacy communities that mental illnesses are psychiatric and psychological in nature. According to the American Psychiatric Association, mental illness:
- refers collectively to all diagnosable mental disorders — health conditions involving
- Significant changes in thinking, emotion and/or behavior
- Distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities
Why is there confusion as to whether misophonia is psychiatric?
Misophonia is probably not psychiatric and “psychiatry has a way of coopting medical/neurological conditions that are not easily explained. Physicians are often complicit in this victim-blaming process. For those of you who are unfamiliar with one of the worst disorder classification faux pas, allow me to introduce you Autism…formerly known as the Refrigerator Mothering Disorder” (Dr. Brout) When research isn’t conducted to properly find what causes a condition, psychiatry can be quick to slap a label on the condition. In her article in the NY Observer, Dr. Jennifer Brout discusses her conversation which psychiatrists that were ‘hell-bent’ on labeling, diagnosing, and essentially “treating” misophonia.
“I asked the author of many of these studies why he and his colleagues were doing therapy for misophonia when there was absolutely no consensus as to what the disorder was (and when none of their therapies had been trialed). During his transparent explanation, he slipped up and referred to misophonia sufferers as potential “consumers”.”
So, does this mean misophonia is not a mental illness?
Misophonia is most likely to be neurological, but this does not mean that it is not a mental illness. Some researchers have begun to tip the tradional theory of “illness” upside down. There are emerging ideas and evidence that support a new definition of mental illness. While not a mental illness as stricly defined by iron-clad definitions, in the future there may be a thinner line between disorders that have origins in the brain. An academic paper from 2015 talks about this changing perception.
“The results may be taken as a slap in the face to the distinction-abolitionists, yet such individuals might take heart in them in that there is no implicit hierarchy in what emerges as the brain-based hallmark of neurological versus psychiatric conditions; they both involve the functionally interesting parts of the brain, it is just that they are, quite subtly, different.”
While confusing to some, this has positive implications for the world of research. Under a paradigm that strips away the strictly worded diagnostics codes of the DSM-5 treatment and research can move past set expectations and work-together for cross-disiplinary approaches. The IMRN has advocated for this approach of research. Whether or not misophonia is a mental illness depends upon who you ask. Its basic components are in the brain, more specifically the limbic system. As classifications of disorders continue to change, we may find the definition of mental illness itself will be put into question. However, for now, misophonia is not a mental illness in the sense that it is a diagnosable mental disorder, in-fact, sufferers may have trouble obtaining a misophonia diagnosis.Want to learn more? Join a Workshop with Dr. Jennifer Brout or Duke CMER at Misophonia Education.