Sunday, January 10, 2010

NAMI incoherent

All the inspirational material I will ever need for this blog is on the website of a single local chapter (Greater Chicago) of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. I'll start today with a statement in the third paragraph of their "fact" sheet entitled "Mental Illness: an Overview". (By the way, this document was most recently  revised in 1999, so maybe that's a problem....)

They say: "The unrelenting hopelessness, helplessness, and suicidal thoughts of depression may be hard to comprehend, but these are real, painful emotions, not hallucinations or delusions."

What exactly does this mean, and why is it important?

I understand NAMI as a group promoting mental-illness-as-brain-disease, which I believe to be an extremely destructive (not to mention largely or totally fraudulent) idea. But I'll try to give these guys the benefit of the doubt and start with what could be right about what they say.

People do get majorly depressed to the point where they can't even move, eat, etc. It can become a critical situation which will even be fatal unless somebody else helps them. This kind of thing is of course real, and anyone who is part of such a situation (e.g., family and friends) should take personal responsibility accordingly. Sometimes medicine is part of necessary help, and doctors know more about medicine than most other people. This is all a matter of common empirical understanding.

OK, now for my problems with the quote.

"Real" emotions are subjectively created feelings, chemical reactions in the brain, or a combination. Take your choice, suggest your own formula (you reader, are actually as good for this definition as the best neuroscientist). Regardless, hallucinations and delusions have to be defined exactly the same way. The sentence in NAMI-GC's "fact sheet" attempts to point out a difference between real emotions and hallucinations or delusions which cannot apparently exist on their terms.

I suggest that the only difference between real emotions, painful or not, and hallucinations or delusions lies in the opinions other people have about someone's thoughts or feelings. If we say painful emotions are real, we agree they are somehow correct or justified. If we call them hallucinations or delusions, we imply a person should not think or feel the way they do. In the first case we may feel obligated to help, in the second we may not. It's essentially a moral judgment.

People used to sympathize with and romanticize heartbreak, and punish deviance. Now, NAMI advocates the same help (medicine, psychiatry) whether anyone's emotions are said to be "real" (as in depression, bipolar) or "hallucinations or delusions" (as in schizophrenia, etc.). That makes the "reality" of feelings or perceptions look pretty irrelevant. NAMI wants to eliminate morality, but it's ultimately necessary to their definition of reality.

Reality is a hot propaganda button. NAMI can tell family members their loved ones' feelings and their experiences are "real" the same way a door-to-door salesman tells a fat, disheveled housewife answering her rickety door in curlers she's "looking great today". All this brain stuff in mental health/illness is propaganda. It makes people feel better because people believe in medicine and science. So they have feelings that NAMI tells the truth, and they buy into useless nonsense. (Big pharma sells lots of drugs, too.)

Mental health is an existential, spiritual or ethical/moral issue, not a medical one. Ironically, NAMI proves this by attempting to argue the opposite.

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