Bi-Polar Disorder: Not a Disease, Just “Fight-or-Flight” 

I heard an NPR Snap Judgment segment today called “Crash and Burn” that exposed the complete fallacy of the current psychiatric diagnosis system enshrined in the DSM-5 or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It was a classic case of what is wrong with psychiatry today.crashandburn-banner-sm

The segment told the story of Jared Dillian, a fast-rising “stud ETF trader” on Wall Street who was making 10,000 trades in a day and at times winning and losing a half-million dollars in a single trade. He sometimes made trades with all 150 people on the trading floor watching him and waiting for the result. 

As you can imagine, his job involved extreme daily pressure. The words he used were telling, figuratively evoking the “fight-or-flight” nature of his existence: “Every day was like going to war, going into battle,” “in the middle of crossfire,” and “I’ve gotten my head caved in so many times over the years.”

As a result, he described being combative, furious, losing his temper, screaming, getting enraged, and flipping out. All these phrases and more were used in just a 15-minute radio segment. He broke phones and computers and pounded on his desk regularly. Would the word “fight” describe these behaviors? 

At night he would go home, drink and watch TV to try to relax and shut down after that high-level survival existence.

After years of this stress, he started to struggle to get out of bed or go to work — giving up or “folding,” is also part of the “fight-or-flight” process. 

He then became paranoid about being investigated by the FBI for a small trade made months previously. He felt as if people were watching him, he lost 40 pounds, and was “living in this fear and terror all the time.” He started behaving irrationally and erratically, such as eating a cold can of beans for lunch.

Paranoia is a normal reaction to the fear response. If you are living in a forest with bears, it makes sense to be on the lookout for bears. This survival reaction is smart, until it gets overused and becomes paranoia — hyper vigilance or being on alert for threats that do not exist.

Then one day Jared became paralyzed by fear — the “freeze” response of the “fight-or-flight” parasympathetic system. 

He knew that something was wrong, but unfortunately he went to a psychiatrist who sent him to a hospital. They diagnosed him as “bipolar,” gave him prescriptions, and sent him home. 

The psychiatrist and the hospital staff were merely looking at symptoms and checked enough boxes to get him labeled “bi-polar.” Yet where was the consideration of this person’s environment — his extremely high-stress job? How can psychiatry continue to ignore the very obvious signs of fear or stress that Jared exhibited? Why are medications the go-to solution for what is merely a normal emotional reaction to fear? 

In essence — why is fear labeled a mental illness?

This person’s behavior was not some pre-existing “disease” or neurochemical imbalance somehow showing up out of the blue. 

Jared’s fear response was being triggered over and over again every day and he had no place to escape to seek relief. So he reacted as could be expected — with impulsivity, anger, violent acting out, irritability, fatigue, avoidance of the stressful situation, and hyper-vigilance.

These are normal reactions, not a disease or mental disorder. 

As evidence of this, what did Jared do when he was in the hospital? He slept for 24 hours straight and then was much calmer the three weeks he was in the hospital. He credited the medications. I would credit not working in an insanely stressful job. 

The DSM assumes that human emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are influenced by some sort of imagined diseases of the brain. It largely fails to take into account any psychosocial situations that might affect a person — such as a job that throws a person into extreme fear responses possibly hundreds of times a day. 

Jared’s job stress would have been the first thing I would have keyed in on if I were assessing him. The first assessment guideline in Self-Acceptance Psychology is: How does the person assess and respond to fear? Is the person hyper-vigilant to fear? Is he hyper-reactivity to fear?

Jared’s response was not hyper-vigilant or hyper-reactive but the situation was so high-stress that it made him have a strong fear-based reaction. 

As I note in Self-Acceptance Psychology, “bi-polar disorder” is merely the “fight-or-flight” response system being turned on high due to chronic stress or trauma. The person cycles through various stages of the response — “fight” responses of anger and pounding on desks,” “fold” responses of laying in bed instead of working, “freeze” responses of being paralyzed with fear,  and “flight” responses of avoidance of stressful situations and paranoia or hyper-vigilance. 

Join the revolution against the DSM and fake diagnoses such as “bi-polar disorder!” Read Self-Acceptance Psychology.