Do psychology students, or those who begin work in the field find themselves more vulnerable to mental illness? The idea is based on innate human vulnerability to suggestion. However, for an illness to be truly diagnosed as a mental illness it must meet the following criteria:
•It is disturbing, or maladaptive to the sufferer.
•It is disturbing to others.
•It does not fall within the realm of what is considered normal or usual, by a great majority of unbiased peers.
•It shows signs of irrational, or unreasoning , disordered, thought process.
Advanced students of psychology will become familiar with the DSM IV TR, This is the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (Text Revision)of mental illness. Professionals are trained to identify mental illness by specific criteria, which meets agreed upon definitions of suffering from any particular disorder.
However, given that some people are more vulnerable to suggestion than others, and that some are also inherently and socially more likely to develop certain disorders, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a student could do so. A student who knows of a great prevalence of certain disorders in his genetic family, especially those occurring on both maternal and paternal sides, may unconsciously begin to tally up factors that suggest to him or her that they suffer from depression, alcoholism, or even a phobia about water after knowing of several instances of drowning. This does not mean, however that it is a common problem.
Factors in OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder, can fall into any number of many behaviors. Most behaviors are exhibited by many people at one time or another, such as hand washing more than is needed, or finding that one thinks of silly superstitions more than they think they should. Yet, although this happens just as often to others, the person studying psychology may act under a subtle and unconscious intuition that it is abnormal.
This should not exclude any people who study psychology from using their research to prove to themselves that it is most likely a behavior that falls well into the realm of normal. It is also verifiable, that although urban mythology often states that more psychiatrists commit suicide, or go “bonkers.” this is demonstrably not so, since professionals in all stages of the profession generally are found to be as well adjusted as any other professionals.
Hypochondria is the common, albeit somewhat of a misnomer, term for those individuals who upon reading or hearing about any certain condition, immediately recognize all the signs within themselves. It is no different for those who study psychology than it is for those who study geology, or chemistry. The geologist will immediately know all the minerals that comprise and interconnect with human beings.
The chemist will likewise know much the same about bio-chemistry. We see the world, in other words, from the perspective of what we know. Anyone who has spent any time on a mental ward, by the way, will begin to feel a bit off over time. It is the same for a non hardened criminal put in prison, or a banker out of work on the streets with the homeless. In this sense, such conditions are “contagious.”
This is worth investigation. One basic biological fact about our evolution is that we all have defense mechanisms, and yet we all are prone to subtle suggestion. We all come, at least once, in our lives, to believe things, conclusively, that are completely a matter of persuasion. If one doubts this, they can examine how many Hindu children become devout Catholics, or how many of us taught otherwise, end up consuming dogs, cats, and insects.
The person who studies psychology then, in the long run, is not really any more, or less susceptible, to mental illness than other human beings. It is really the stigma of mental illness that most humans are afraid of, and those most educated about mental illness will learn this as well. Then they benefit from the observation, that just as very few people go through an entire lifetime without some form of physical ailment, so too, do almost no human beings have a magical shield that protects them from a huge and long range of disorders that will eventually to some degree affect the mind, emotions, behaviors or complex interactions of all of these.