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10 Controversial Mental Disorders


I don’t adhere to the school of thought which says mental illness is a myth; there are, undeniably, some crazy people in the world. It is quite apparent, however, that psychiatry has been used to stigmatize and control people on many occasions since its inception, especially nonconformists, free thinkers and those at odds with authority. Here are 10 of the most pseudoscientific mental disorders ever proposed, some from the past, and some from today.

Note: Portions of list have been edited to correct factual inaccuracies. (Feb 2014)


Female Hysteria


Hysteria was a common diagnosis for feisty and disobedient women, dating back to Ancient Greece. Greek philosophers, including Hippocrates and Plato, viewed the womb as a living creature that wandered through a woman’s body, often causing disease. In fact, the word “hysteria” is derived from the Greek word for uterus (hysteria). Insomnia, nervousness, irritability, loss of appetite, fluid retention, muscle spasms and many other symptoms were said to result from the wandering womb. Though hysteria was a common diagnosis for nuns, virgins and widows throughout the Middle Ages, the disease truly exploded in 19th century America and Europe, creating a huge market for vibrators, douches and similar devices. One physician, in 1859, even claimed a quarter of all women suffered from hysteria, while another compiled a 75 page list of hysteria symptoms, only to state it was still incomplete. The most common prescriptions for hysteria were, of course, sex and masturbation, sometimes performed by the doctor himself, until the patient experienced “hysterical paroxysm” (orgasm).




Many forget that homosexuality was, and is still, considered a mental disorder by many. The American Psychiatric Association did not declassify homosexuality as a mental illness until 1973. Gays were considered mentally ill in China until 2001, after 5 years of intensive study by the Chinese Society of Psychiatry. In many countries around the world, gays are still considered insane and immoral, facing punishment, ostracism and even death.




Drapetomania was a purported mental illness that caused black slaves to flee captivity, described by American doctor Samuel Cartwright, in 1851. According to Cartwright, the illness resulted from masters who “made themselves too familiar with [slaves], treating them as equals” and prescribed “whipping the devil out of them” as a “preventative measure.” In his work, Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race, Cartwright’s justification for drapetomania is primarily Biblical, citing the idea that slaves must obey their masters.


Dysaethesia Aethiopica


Here’s another alleged mental illness from Samuel Cartwright, describing widespread laziness and “rascality” amongst blacks, particularly “free negroes.” Again, he prescribed whipping as a cure, which would make the black “look grateful and thankful to the white man whose compulsory power … has restored his sensation and dispelled the mist that clouded his intellect.” The name of the disease roughly translates to “abnormal Ethiopian perception.”


Seasonal Affective Disorder


Into the modern era… People who suffer from this disorder are said to have varying moods depending on the season. Popular treatments for SAD include bright light therapy, in which a person stares at a bright light for 30-60 minutes daily, costly air ionizers, “dawn simulation,” and antidepressants.

Note: This entry has been edited to correct factual inaccuracies. (Feb 2014)




Though it literally translates to “fear of chemicals,” this term is used by some psychologists, scientists and organizations to describe those concerned about the “industrial,” “synthetic,” “artificial,” and “man-made” particularly with regards to food and drink. An article by the American Enterprise Institute on chemophobia boldly states “The false idea that our bodies have become ‘toxic waste dumps’ is not just wrong but counterproductive.” Do they really think there’s no correlation between the skyrocketing rates of cancer and the increase of chemical additives in the food supply? It’s probably only a matter of time before psychiatrists use this word to describe people who resist chemotherapy for cancer (i.e. Daniel Hauser has “chemophobia”).


Orthorexia Nervosa


This “disorder” is similar to chemophobia. According to its discoverer, Steven Bratman, orthorexia, also known as “healthy eating disorder,” is a “fixation with healthy or righteous eating.” This can include people who avoid fats, sugars, salt, caffeine, alcohol, gluten, preservatives, food additives and animal products, as well as raw foodists. This condition is not officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, but is still promoted by some psychologists, and news outlets such as ABC. Why isn’t a fixation with eating unhealthy foods considered a mental disorder? If it was, it would probably be the most common in the Western world.

Note: This entry has been edited to correct factual inaccuracies. (Feb 2014)




Symptoms indicating autism have changed over time, but it is certainly a real disease. Due to the sometimes ambiguous nature of the diagnosis, and the fact that diagnosis must often happen at an early age, some misdiagnoses are bound to happen.

Note: This entry has been edited to correct factual inaccuracies. (Feb 2014)




There is certainly a huge industry which has developed around this mental illness. Almost six million children in the United States alone, have been diagnosed with it, with most going on one or more medications. Many of these medications, including Lexapro, Adderall and Ritalin may be associated with a slew of side effects including chronic headaches, high blood pressure, lethargy, seizures, weakened immune system, stunted growth, depression, suicidal thoughts and even death; according to the FDA, Ritalin accounted for the deaths of at least 186 children between 1990 and 2000. Some studies point to the cause of ADHD as a diet high in refined sugar, food additives and common allergens like gluten and lactose. Some would even argue that hyperactivity is a normal part of being a kid, and that many parents nowadays are just too lazy or ineffectual to discipline their children.

Note: This entry has been edited to correct factual inaccuracies. (Feb 2014)


Personality Disorder

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The APA defines a personality disorder as “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the culture of the individual who exhibits it.” This definition raises some very important questions about the nature of, not just personality disorders, but all mental illness. It seems that in all cases, diagnosis is contingent upon cultural standards of normalcy, and what if certain mores in our culture are arbitrary or immoral? Who are psychiatrists to deem what constitutes normality to begin with? Here’s an additional dilemma. The words “disorder” and “illness” imply a handicap- an inability to function successfully- yet many people with “mental illnesses” are highly successful entrepreneurs and entertainers. Bill Gates for example, is considered by many to be autistic. What if some “mental illnesses” are actually gifts which allow people to excel above “normal” human beings? Think about that one. By the way, if you disagree with anything on this list, you may have Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Note: This entry has been edited to correct factual inaccuracies. (Feb 2014)