Stigma isn’t the issue – mental health is

Politicians are human. Some of them receive psychiatric labels due to the ups and downs of career and life. A psychiatric label is less likely to derail a politician’s career than it once was.

The media likes to downplay the matter. According to an article, Mental health isn’t the issue – stigma is, in the St Paul Minnesota Star Tribune:

“It’s just a disability,” said Dr. Steve Miles, a bioethicist at the University of Minnesota and former candidate for the U.S. Senate who has bipolar disorder. “I take medicines. I show up for work. If depression disqualified people, we’d have to put 20 percent of [the population] on welfare.”

When Dr. Miles claims to have a disability, I don’t imagine that means he shows up to the office in a wheelchair. Dr. Miles doesn’t feel he can shake his sadness and his euphorias without help, er, or even with help.

Mental illness is not the political kiss of death it once was, partly because it’s now more widely recognized as a treatable brain disease. Depression is now regarded as one of the most common medical conditions, affecting as many as one in five people at some point in their lives, by some estimates.

One point I want to make is that brain disease is in the expertise of the neurologist. Since mental illness is in the expertise of the psychiatrist, it is not brain disease. We don’t find mental illness through lesions and tumors of the brain, we find it through behavior which might be described as different or aberrent. We are dealing with actions that stem from a disorder of the thought processes and, therefore, perhaps it is more of a self-control issue.

Elvis Costello released an album/CD a few years back entitled “Get Happy”. I would think in a sense that listening to this sort of music might be conducive to good mental health.

I understand 7% of the US population are taking SSRI antidepressants. I had read 10% somewhere, but that would be excessive in anybodies book. A lot of people would be very sad then if it were not for their chemical make overs.

Then the question becomes…or would they? Antidepressants have been found to often work no better than an enhanced placebo. Sometimes in clinical trials a placebo beats the antidepressant drug, and then the drug company execs start complaining about the placebo effect. What is the placebo effect? It’s the notion, given studies supposedly proving such, that the mind given a sugar pill, due to the power of suggestion, can heal itself as well if not better than the mind given a drug. Uh, right.

Common sense would take us down a different pathway; for instance, I have heard of a study in which exercise alone beat both drug treatment with exercise, and drug treatment alone, as a solution to what is characterized as depression. Feeling blue? Get out of the house, and do something exciting. I hear that can help.

The theory now current is that there are all these fruitcakes out there who aren’t being given the drugs they need because they are afraid to step into a psychiatrist’s office and be stigmatized.

Perhaps, but just consider, if some of those already labeled ‘mentally ill’ individuals were able to lose their labels, their ‘mental illnesses’, that ‘stigma’ they had been given goes with it, doesn’t it?

Problem. If you increase the population of the country taking antidepressant drugs, you are not having more people losing their ‘mental illnesses’. Technically, the illness is synonymous with the drug. Likewise, if you encourage more people to enter into treatment, it may be good for people in the mental health profession, and for people in the pharmaceutical industry, but it’s not so good for the nation as a whole that then finds it’s mental illness rate is on a sharp incline.

I tend to be a serious disbeliever in the religion of mental disorders. I don’t think any advertisements for serious mental disturbances are going to make mental disorders mentally healthy. I don’t think any such advertisements are likely to make it socially or environmentally healthy either for that matter. I think the best way to maintain your mental well being is by staying away from the psychiatrist office. Why? If you don’t want to be a good Catholic, you don’t consult a priest. If you don’t want to be a good jew, you don’t consult a rabbi. The same principal applies to serious mental illnesses.

The question that then arises, at a certain level, is should it be more socially acceptable to be labeled psychiatrically disabled, or mentally ill, than it is not to be so labeled? If so, then before long we will have to be leaning on our ‘mentally disordered’ majority to make things right in this country, and how we are going to manage to pay for this ‘mentally disordered’ majority would defy logic. Just consider the ‘social security’ debacle it is predicted we will be having to contend with in the not so distant future.

You can walk away from your ‘mental disorder’, too, and you don’t have to be a politician to do so. You call yourself recovered. You just take the door out of the ‘in recovery’ building, and you enter the much wider world beyond the parenthetical world of mental health treatment. My feeling, based on actual experience, is that that is sometimes the best course of action a person in such a situation can take.

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3 Responses

  1. I was once in the unfortunate position of living in diminished circumstances and needing dental treatment. To qualify for free treatment I had to see a social worker. The scheme was called “Dental As Anything” presumably word play on the name of the band “Mental As Anything”.

    The office walls were covered in posters warning me:
    That violence and bad language will not be tolerated.
    That I should use a condom.
    Having I been taking my medication?
    That I should use clean injecting equipment etc etc etc.

    There was a form to be filled out and it was assumed that I was incompetent and that the woman would fill it out for me. She was one of those people who pull there mouths into a grin, flutter their eyelashes and vibrate their head from side to side when they speak. She would also gasp and sigh whenever she moved or reached for anything.

    She wanted to know what mental illness I had. I said none. She wanted to know what medication I was on. I said none. She wanted to know what illicit drugs I used. I said none. She wanted to know what my daily intake of alcohol was. I said I drank 2 or 3 cans of beer 2 or 3 times a week.

    Their was a lot of sighing and gasping and it seemed as if things were not going well. I told her that I could prove my lack of finances and asked her if it was also necessary that I be a mental patient or a drug addict to qualify for free treatment.

    She said that I should not be worried about stigma and that “everyone has some kind of mental illness”.

    Rod Jackson ( search words: psychiatrist Junction )

  2. Stigma,Mental health,Psychiatry,.They are all parts of the same dame thing.Combined they have done more harm then good.I include stigma,because it starts from within the other two.The public is not being properly informed about mental illness.How could they be when those doing the informing are to say the least unifomed?I’ve been in and out of the system fourty years and suffered in many ways.Most of my experience has been negative in respect to the Mental system.The most unfortunate aspect of this fact is that it’s all getting worse.

    • When the rate of mental illness has risen dramatically since the 1950s, and it is has risen even more dramatically in the last few years given drug company friendly drug pushing doctors, and massive direct to consumer advertising campaigns, you’ve got to ask the question, do we really need even more “mental health consumers” than we’ve got right now? Mental health professionals have this delusion that there are all these undiagnosed mentally ill people out there in the community who are afraid to come forward and be ‘helped’ because of the stigma attached to mental health treatment. The only treatment they have in mind, when it isn’t the overtly negative confinement in a state hospital, is treatment in the community system with psychiatric drugs. These drugs can be very damaging. When the mental illness rate declines, the situation is improving, and people are recovering, people are ‘getting well’. The mental health of the entire population improves when these professionals and their chumps aren’t actively ‘recruiting’ people for emotional crippledom and treatment. When you encourage people, starting as children, to wimp into the mental health system, you are going to get more people in that system. If discouragement of this sort of thing is stigma, then I’m all for it.

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