‘Disorders’ for the next generation

As the world gets progressively madder, it seems only right and proper that psychiatry is forever updating its list of hang-ups available to us all. This week, with the excitement of a fashion designer launching a new spring collection, American psychiatrists have unveiled what they call “the next generation of mental disorders”.

The list, which will be included in the new edition of that essential reference work The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, will be good news for the pharmaceutical industry and the therapy business, and will bring joy to the ranks of the self-concerned. There is something in it for everyone – indeed, you would need to be a dull dog indeed not to be touched by at least one of this season’s neuroses.

If you suffer from torpor, dreaminess and general inability to get things done, you will be glad to know that you are not lazy but suffer from sluggish cognitive disorder. If you have a tendency to over-eat, your trouble may well be binge-eating disorder. A bit of a problem with keeping your temper? That will be your intermittent explosive disorder.

Virtually anything you do, or fail to do, in the area of sex will now be found under one heading or another in the shrinks’ manual. The 28 per cent of women reported, in a recent Sky documentary The Secret Guide to Women’s Health, to be sexually inactive (38 per cent in Scotland) may think that they have simply made a choice in their lives; in fact, they have succumbed to the dreaded sexual arousal disorder. Those at the other end of the randiness spectrum might well be suffering from hypersexuality, while those who excitedly condemn pornography are in the grip of something called absexuality.

Whingers – or, rather, those suffering negativistic disorder – might complain that virtually anything which makes human life interesting is now being categorised as a problem, that forever increasing the number of personal flaws we should worry about actually contributes to the prevailing group psychosis of self-obsession.

If anything, though, the list has not gone far enough. Of the mental ailments cutting a swathe through early 21st-century life, several must surely find a place in the next manual. Public crying disorder, the tendency to well up when in front of a camera or microphone, is clearly a significant new behavioural syndrome.

Then there is internet mob-hysterical disorder, which can afflict normally sensible people when they have too much regular contact with the speed, heat and anonymity of online communication. The influence of living life through a computer screen on our erotic natures, with those who normally suffer from sexual arousal disorder quickly becoming absexual or even hypersexual, must surely be a subject for psychiatric concern.

Something intimate and dysfunctional is happening with mobile phones, too. Of late, people have begun suffering from a tendency to derive more pleasure from texting sex to someone than enacting it in the traditional manner – hypertextual disorder, it should probably be called. Unless some form of therapy or pill is found for this problem, addicts may soon find themselves falling in love with their iPhones, finding the instant little fantasy it offers more alluring and satisfying than the messy reality.

In the end, there might indeed be a case for including in the new manual the greatest threat of all – order disorder, that urgent contemporary need to draw up lists of increasing futility in a desperate attempt to make sense of a shambolic world.

Baroness Ashton should talk the talk

The sensible-sounding Baroness Ashton is under attack in Europe. The EU’s new foreign policy chief is said by her critics to be amateurish, and not over-imbued with the work ethic. She is accused of switching off her telephone at 8pm. There are complaints that she travels to England to see her family every weekend.

Normally it would be easy to dismiss these complaints as a peculiar form of European snobbery: Lady Ashton does not conform to the prevailing political image in Europe, the trim, soigné look of Mme Sarkozy or of Silvio Berlusconi’s latest babe-minister.

Yet one criticism is surely justified. After two years as a European Commissioner, she is said to be entirely ignorant of the French language. Footballers arrive in England from various parts of the world. After three months, most of them can stumble their way through a press conference. After a year, many of them speak our language better than their English colleagues. Why is her ladyship so different?

* There have been sharp trills of outrage at the discovery that Asda and Tesco put up the prices of key seasonal items for the week before Christmas when their customers were at their most desperate. A former director of the Office of Fair Trading has pronounced that the policy was “a systematic, cynical and aggressive attempt to exploit demand”.

This horror at the revelation that businesses behave like businesses is sweetly naïve. There is a simpler, more accurate way of describing the supermarkets’ entirely predictable behaviour: market capitalism.

Independent, Wednesday, 17 February 2010