Thursday, January 7, 2010

Existence of mental illness

My friends and clients occasionally dispute "whether mental illness exists" as an intellectual, scientific or policy issue. I think the question is confusing.

Certainly "mental illness" exists as a topic of discussion or investigation, and as a desciptive phenomenon, a prevalent and apparently useful metaphor, etc., in every Western public forum I have ever encuontered. Just as certainly, "mental illness" does not exist as any specific, proven disease or objectively measurable bio-physiological brain pathology. Honest, educated disputes regarding the existence of mental illness are therefore really about appropriate language and effective remedies.

But it's quite amazing how the overwhelming majority of people who talk about mental illness are either critically ignorant or dishonest. This especially includes people who make their living as mental health professionals, lawyers, judges and public policy makers, and those who claim to be mentally ill.

Most modern adults in Western societies would say that witchcraft and magic don't exist as they were defined and fought against for hundreds of years by the Inquisition and other religious and social institutions. But of course, there are Wiccans and stage performers today who are expert in the subjects of witchcraft and magic, who practice them daily and even make their living doing so.

Certainly "witches" do not exist to be burned at the stake, and just as certainly they do exist, in covens currently enjoying legal protection under the First Amendment's free exercise clause.

There's a great deal of work to do in the world. It is destructive to waste time confusing each other. We should know what we are actually disputing, and take personal responsibility for the understanding we impart, or fail to impart to others, every time we speak or write.

My argument is simply that medical treatment for spiritual, emotional or mental problems (i.e., psychiatry) is an extremely bad proposition. It should not be public policy, and anyone who seeks to enforce it overtly or covertly on others should be fought with ferocity.

1 comment:

  1. When I was imprisoned in a madhouse and would phone newspaper reporters in hopes of enlisting their support to condemn my incarceration they would invariably ask "What did you do?" They were told up front that I was committed to a "mental health center" and not accused of any crime. These were legitimate, mainstream, veteran members of the American press/media. They didn't ask me "What mental illness do you have?" or "Are you mentally ill?" They tacitly understood that one's being in a madhouse assumes some subcriminal offense against someone.

    Yet, in the state's petitions to commit me I was accused of "having mental illness" or "being mentally ill". I was not accused of "doing" anything. I was accused of "having" or "being".

    Psychoquacks "diagnose" MI by listing what a prospective patient has "done" or failed to "do". They are not concerned with what the "patient" "has" or "is".

    A proper use of language would be to say a person is "doing mental illness" or that they "are mental illness" (and should be dealt with via segregation or correction). These are penological concerns and the average person understands this all too well. Psychiatry is nothing but window dressing for this enterprise.