Friday, January 28, 2011

Does Anger Need Medical Management?

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Anger is now a Medical Issue?
Anger News in Review - November 11, 2007 on Google News: Road Rage has a New Name

There’s even a new name for people who can’t restrain their anger. Extreme attacks of rage are linked to a medical condition called intermittent explosive disorder (IED, which fittingly shares its initials with improvised explosive device), a condition characterised by a failure to resist aggressive impulses. Harvard and Chicago Universities, which carried out joint research on IED, claim 4% of Americans are affected by the condition, many of whom probably own guns.

There are physical signs you should look out for to prevent an attack of rage. Your mouth dries, your heart starts racing, your hands slick with sweat, your face flushes, you breathe faster and you clench muscles, especially in the jaw and fists. If you are aware of these signs, you will know to be wary. At this point, ask yourself: is your anger to do with the situation, or the result of preexisting stress? What action can I take and still be in control of the situation? Something as simple as taking 15 deep breaths in a row, each time exhaling for twice as long as you inhale, will start to relax muscles.
There's more but I think what we have here will suffice...
This article about road rage being lumped into the medical diagnosis of Intermittent Explosive Disorder seems to imply that rather than resolve anger, now all we have to do is medicate it. I’m not sure I like where this is heading. I believe that by categorizing a normal emotional response with a certain CHOICE of behaviours - and then giving it a medical diagnosis puts our society on an ever steepening (yes - I said steepening) slippery slope towards total lack of accountability for one's actions.

For example, all the symptoms described in the article as leading toward rage are part of the natural fight or flight physiological response to stress and anger. One might easily experience all of these symptoms – but choose to internalize their anger rather than externalize it. It seems misleading to imply that these physiological cues are sure fire indicators that you are heading for a bout of rage, when in fact the "rageful" behaviours are just as much a CHOICE as it is to keep one's feelings inside.

In fact, if one is aware of his/her physiological cues, and chooses to continues toward a rageful outburst, can that truly be defined as IED? Consider that IED is characterized by a swift buildup and explosion of anger, and a quick return to baseline – typically one does not have time to become aware of or to counteract the buildup – because of cognitive impairment such as developmental delay or acquired brain injury.

To say that road ragers have a medical condition is a huge cop out I think – and perpetuates the gross misconception that anger is a disease or a dis-order rather than something that was placed in the human emotional and psychological construct as part of our normal functioning. Think about the ramifications for making road rage and other types of outbursts a "medical" condition - what kind of havoc could this wreak on the streets when people come to believe that their chosen method of anger expression is a "sickness that couldn't be helped"?

Let me be clear about something: Anger in and of itself is not a sickness! Those of you who know me well have often heard me say this – it’s not contagious, and it’s not a disease. Anger is an emotion that is as natural as happiness, sadness, or fear. However, in my sometimes cynical mind, I suppose that since we can medicate sadness (with anti-depressants), and fear (with anti-anxiety drugs), it comes as no surprise that the push is on to find medications to quell the symptoms of anger too. If they ever come out with a treatment for happiness, I think that will be the day I might have to start looking for a saner planet on which to live.