Views & Reviews Review of the Week

No hard feelings

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 24 January 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:219
  1. Margaret McCartney, general practitioner, Glasgow, and columnist for Financial Times Weekend
  1. margaret{at}

    Being shy or sad may not feel good, but it is often normal behaviour, and medical treatment may do people a grave disservice, Margaret McCartney finds in two new books

    What is a “normal” emotion? Are we “allowed” to experience variations in our mood, or have sorrowful reactions to adverse events, without it meaning that we have a “disorder?” Is there such a thing as an ideal personality, or ideal ways to “cope” with an external event such that it does not impact on our feelings? Is there such a thing as a perfect mood? And if there is, is it up to the medical profession to decide what it should be composed of, and to encourage the use of all methods in our means to achieve it?

    These books ask profound questions, and serve as a wake-up call. Psychiatrists in general, and the architects of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in particular, stand accused of ignoring normal variations of personality and mood and the contexts in which they occur. In doing so, say the authors, we have harmfully categorised large portions of the normal population as diseased.

    The Loss of Sadness, written by two professors of sociology, is meticulous and timely. Horwitz and Wakefield describe how …

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