Are You S.I.C.K.?

January 29, 2010 at 3:44 pm 9 comments

I sometimes tune in to different television shows that touch on mental health issues — some that are intended to be informative and, less often, the more sensational offerings — just to see how the issue is approached. A&E’s Hoarders is easily the most successful and most talked about show to cash in on the social sideshow that is televised “mental illness.” Having watched just a couple of episodes, maybe I’ll share my opinion of the show some other time. For the moment, I’ll concern myself with one thing that jumped out at me from one exchange.

On a recent episode, a therapist referred to one person as fitting the “S.I.C.K.” model —  a clever little acronym for “Sensitive, Intellectual, Creative and Kind.” She lost me. I cannot understand why someone would choose to attach the word sick to positive traits. I don’t know whether that little gem is in common use in her professional arena or if that’s just something she thinks is clever — a brilliantly reductionist little acronym to keep in her back pocket, just itching to use it on the next guy. Either way, nothing good can come of throwing a word as stigmatizing as sick around so liberally in regard to emotional distress, much less, positive attributes and in general we need fewer labels — not more.

For anyone who thinks I may be taking things too seriously, let’s remember it only took Prozac Nation to make the phrase “chemical imbalance” a household name and an accepted truth, despite its standing squarely in the realm of theory. These are two different things, to be sure, but we must be careful with our words. Simply put, words mean things and when you have a viewing audience of 2.5 million, words mean plenty.


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  • 1. Pepperkatt  |  February 10, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    I can completely understand S.I.C.K. I suffer from an OCD/ICD, and the traits mentioned in the ‘S.I.C.K.’ acronym are part of what makes me susceptible to the OCD itself as well as addiction.

    My husband and I saw the episode as well, and when we heard the acronym, we both just looked at each other in awe. He has hoarding tendencies, and I have an addictive personality. We are both creative and kind and have above average IQs, and with us being very sensitive, we find that the world we live in can be very cold. This can cause us to withdraw into our destructive behaviours. I feel that there should perhaps be another ‘I’ on the end- ‘S.I.C.K.I.’ -the last ‘I’ standing for Introverted.

    Also, I am currently reading a book called “Creative Recovery”, and it indicates that Creatives are more susceptible to addiction and other self-destructive behaviours because of our sensitive and kind nature and feeling like we don’t really fit in to the world around us. As I read on, it’s like it was written solely for me.

    Personally, before my destructive traits became a prominent part of my life, I may not have felt that the S.I.C.K. acronym was appropriate either, but being in the midst of my issues, it resonated quite strongly with me.

    just my two cents.

    • 2. abellve  |  February 10, 2010 at 2:47 pm

      I can absolutely understand and relate to all of the traits in the SICK model. I hope you don’t think that I’m saying that those positive traits are separate from or mutually exclusive with people deemed to have these disorders. To the contrary, I can even see that those attributes would be particularly frequent among this group I just think the word “sick” is a poor choice of words to throw around. “Sick” to me says illness and malfunction. Sick means bad not different.
      I’ll have to look into the book you mention. I definitely see creative people as having a different set of social obstacles and personal emotional risks. I’d say all four traits (and to some extent your added “I”) can be applied to me as well. The traits summed up in the SICK model are difficult to nurture and maintain in our modern world.
      It’s always great to see how differently two people can view the same thing so thanks for chiming in. More power to you, whatever words you choose.

  • 3. Laurie  |  June 6, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    I watched that episode last night. SICK is sick. Not a good acronym for people. I agree with you.

  • 4. Susie P.  |  March 5, 2011 at 9:37 am

    As I begin to see more clients with hoarding tendencies in the medical setting in which I work as a social worker, I agree with the SICK acronym. I also saw this same episode and never gave this a thought before. But as I reflect on my clients and family members with these same tendencies, it really fits the bill in most cases. I think it helps to take away the perception that these are “bad people/people with bad habits” and give proper focus on the mental illness-based component of OCD and anxiety. It is a treatable condition, and if properly treated, can give people their productive life back.

  • 5.  |  June 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    Its interesting to see that this S.I.CK. model is referred to positive traits. But people lets use the common sense that GOD has given us PLEASE !!! If CARING AND SENSITIVE people are referred to as ill, and Intellectually smart and creative people are referred to as ill also, then what do we call murders and thieves, and people who love to treat people callous and evil. No wonder the little girls growing up in our society choose BAD BOYS over boys who want to be nice to them ( GOD forbid !! a man wants to be a gentleman, no wonder he is referred to as a whimp !!)

  • 6. D  |  September 4, 2011 at 1:10 am

    I’m actually just watching this episode at the moment. The SICK acronym immediately jumped out at me too. To the point that I directly gave it a quick google to see what the internet had to say on this (this was the first page to pop up). But my reasons are more in tune with RK, I definitely have deep hoarding tendencies, as well as addictive and self destructive behaviours, and I do think that I am more susceptible to these thing because I have the SICK qualities. I think the SICK acronym fits when talking about hoarders etc as hoarding is most certainly a sickness.

    My Humble Opinion

  • 7. Corraine  |  November 5, 2011 at 2:03 am

    I just watched the episode on Netflix and I’m sitting here so perplexed by the SICK that I googled it too. Could this be why I am always so hurt by dealings with people? I am an artist too. Odd–never heard of this before. I need to research this more. Maybe this can help me not be so crippled by getting emotionally hurt by the horrific callous behavior by some people

  • 8. Heather  |  November 14, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    I’m just chiming in to make one nitpick here: in a medical/scientific sense, “theory” does not mean “hunch” or “speculation.”

    According to the United States National Academy of Sciences,

    “The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence. Many scientific theories are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics). One of the most useful properties of scientific theories is that they can be used to make predictions about natural events or phenomena that have not yet been observed.”

    According to this definition, a theory must be well supported by evidence. Furthermore, the term “theory” would not be appropriate for describing untested but intricate hypotheses or even scientific models.

    Basically, saying chemical imbalance is “just a theory” hardly discredits chemical imbalance as a scientifically tested and demonstrable cause of mental illness.

    Of course it isn’t the ONLY cause- trauma, socialization, and other environmentals can cause a pattern of diagnosable mental illness, or worsen a pre-existing chemical condition. That’s why there’s a difference between, for instance, situational depression (as in a long-term grieving process after a traumatic event, where a person displays a number of worrying behaviors, up to and including suicidal ideation) and clinical depression (where this same pattern of behavior is observed over an inexplicably long period of time, untraceable to an event, often resistant to treatment, often present in people with a genetic history of the same or a similar condition, and with notable anomalies in brain function or chemistry).

    In other words, scientifically, a theory is a proof. Not a guess. Chemical imbalance may not account for every case of mental illness (certainly, I think our society suffers from a media-born hysteria where we often diagnose mental illness prematurely and incorrectly, especially in our children), but it accounts for enough of them that dismissing it outright is disingenuous and irresponsible.

  • 9. abellve  |  December 8, 2011 at 9:58 am

    First, while I have been called out for using the word “theory” instead of “hypothesis”, I’m certainly not using it to mean baseless guess either.

    “Chemical imbalance may not account for every case of mental illness… but it accounts for enough of them that dismissing it outright is disingenuous and irresponsible.”

    The real correction here, again, is theory/hypothesis as it is not demonstrable and supported by evidence and I do believe this hypothesis will stand for a long time to come without conflicting evidence arising. Evidence wasn’t needed to bring it into being, to the forefront or to keep it in our lexicon. Evidence is not likely to be actively pursued by an industry whose money is made on an idea’s existence.

    “According to this definition, a theory must be well supported by evidence.”

    Then perhaps we can agree to call it something else as, to the best of my knowledge, public acceptance and industry reiteration does not constitute evidence.


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