Two Schools Of Thought

Although I’ve dealt with this subject before, I don’t feel like I’ve dealt with it in a direct enough fashion, and so therefore I’m returning to it. In 2001 the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, or NARSAD, published the results of a survey it had conducted. Through this survey NARSAD would arrive at The Top Ten Myths About Mental Illness. This was a faq sheet that would supposedly explain away people’s presumed misconceptions about “mental illness”. These “facts” were derived from the 102 survey responses NARSAD received from those mental health experts who chose to fill out the survey. As anyone should know, there is nothing particularly scientific about survey results. We don’t, for example, arrive at the facts by voting on them. The facts are what they are regardless of whether we believe in them or not.

40 years previously, in 1960, psychiatrist and professor Thomas Szasz published a paper entitled simply The Myth of Mental Illness. Do I think there was a relationship between this survey to establish what NARSAD would have us believe are The Top Ten Myths About Mental Illness and the paper Dr. Szasz penned? Yes, I do. The very first myth these doctors sought to dispel goes right to the point of the matter. “Psychiatric disorders are not true medical illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.” The subtitle of a section at the beginning of the 1960 paper was “MENTAL ILLNESS AS A SIGN OF BRAIN DISEASE”. Sounds similar, huh? 40 years later, and the medical model psychiatric establishment is still looking for a way to cancel out the message that Dr. Szasz was seeking to deliver 40 years earlier. 40 years later then, 50 years now, and that message continues to resonate for some of us. 50 years later, and biological medical model psychiatry hasn’t managed to effectively prove its point.

Dr. Szasz recognized that there was a school of thought that attributed emotional disturbance to defects in the brain. These postulated brain defects are proving more and more elusive to find all the time. He recognized that some people have problems in living. Attributing these problems to pathology. as he pointed out, is side stepping the issue. Problems aren’t sicknesses. Problems have solutions. 50 years later, and biological psychiatry is no closer to making this very simple distinction, and thus arriving at the basic connections that stem from it than it was then. If we call a solution to a problem a cure, doing so does not make the problem a sickness, nor does it make the solution a cure. Calling troubles a disease does not take them away. 50 years on, and some forces in the psychiatric treatment world are still trying to transform troubling situations into permanent fixtures of life for some people. When they do so, the numbers of people described as seriously demented or disturbed doesn’t dwindle. The numbers of people so affected goes up. Given this predicament, perhaps looking for lasting solutions to temporary problems in living is not such a bad approach to take after all.

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10 Responses

  1. Don’t ya love these “myths” and “common misperceptions” about “mental illness” that these shysters come up with.

    Just because your son smokes marijuana doesn’t mean that he’s going to come into your bedroom in the middle of a dark and stormy night and chop you up. That happens very rarely. But “just to be on the safe side” bring him in to see us. Tell him that there is “no stigma” and that we’re only going to talk.

    When he gets here we’ll tell him that we’re going to keep him “just for observation” for a few days.

    When the door shuts behind him we’ll take him to the treatment room and inject him. We’ll take note of his protests and write him up as being resistive and violent.

    If he actually strikes any of us we’ll put him in a forensic psych facility along with particular murderers that we like to keep there because it makes us look interesting.

    If he behaves the way we want him to behave we’ll let him out on the condition that we drug him for life. He’s likely to die young from suicide or the complications of anxiety, obesity etc but that’s OK we can shrug and say, “Yes, mental illness. Terribly sad.”

    • I’ve seen mental health professionals all too often use the “disease” label to dismiss the very humanity of the person they were supposed to be “treating”. Everything that comes out of this person’s mouth is no longer dismissed as the ravings of lunatic, no. We have progressed beyond that impasse. Everything that comes out of this person’s mouth is dismissed as the “symptoms” of “mental illness” instread. Some “progress”, huh?

      The unfortunate thing about all this is that some of the patients buy the bullshit all the way to an early grave, and they don’t have to do that.

  2. PS. As I write the jury is literally still out in the case of the guy who threw his four year old daughter off the West Gate Bridge in Melbourne.

    He was an otherwise regular guy although his in laws said he was a bit of a prick. He had a home and a job, two sons and a daughter. He pulled up about 80 meters above the water on this busy bridge on a Monday morning about 8 am. Three little kids in the car. Throws his daughter over. He’d told his wife on the phone a little earlier that she wasn’t going to see her kids again.

    Some utter bastard of a shrink testified a few weeks ago that the guy was innocent due to mental illness. The jury can’t decide after 5 days.

    What a crock!

    • The “mental illness” defense would allow them to proceed as if he didn’t commit the crime. He did commit the crime, and he should be held accountable. This type of thing isn’t excusable, and I get the idea the court is trying to come up with a way to say maybe it is.

      It sounds like there were issues between him and the wife, and unfortunately he made his daughter pay for those issues.

      We have Guilty By Reason Of Insanity verdicts in this country, too, and I think those are probably better than the Not Guilty By Reason Of Insanity verdicts that are sometimes handed down.

      We also have more than our share of infanticide. I expect these violent crimes having to do with jealous controlling husbands, who can’t let go, are going to get even more common than they are now.

  3. This is an excellent article. Of course, in their own underhanded way, they [the priests of bipsychiatry] are responding to/attempting to negating Szaz’s salient points. It goes to show — they’re reading us. Amongst all their other activities (exerting hegemonic control over the dialogue, producing reams of papers [propganada] as part of that effort, drugging, institutionalizing, dehumanizing, etc.), they still find the time…

    • Yo alt. Yeah I think the shrinks are often making a special effort when they are faced with criticism and so they double down and further vent their fury on the “patient”. As these imbecile shrinks whine and retaliate against criticism they betray themselves.

    • Yes, they are trying to negate Szasz’s points, and that does go to show that they’ve read his work. I think some of The Top Ten Myths they’ve come up with are just so questionable, as far as myths go, that anyone with any sense would find some food for thought in them. They aren’t asking for people to think critically, they’re asking them to think uncritically, and it’s this suspension of disbelief that I find dangerous. This is not about truth, this is about presumption. I see a collective will to ignorance at work here, and that worries me. Dehumanize people by placing a “sickness” label between them and you, a “sickness” that makes them somehow subhuman in your estimation. Okay, that’s done, but still you’ve got a human being, and somebody who should be able to exhibit a bit of self-control. They should be able to show a little self control, that is, unless they listen to you. By you, of course, here I mean a mental health professional, or associate, indoctrinated in the biological medical model faith.

      • If you so much as mention Szasz in the “company” of a shrink he is dismissed as being too old and you are written up as being delusional.

  4. March 29, 2011.

    2 days after my post, and Thomas Szasz is back, in The Moral Liberal this time, with an article of his own, The Illegitimacy of the “Psychiatric Bible”.

    Particular psychiatric diagnoses have not escaped professional criticism. Wishing to make a name for themselves as psychiatrists, “critics” object to one or another diagnosis (homosexuality)—or to “overdiagnosis” (ADHD)—but continue to respect the American Psychiatric Association (APA) as a scientific organization and regard the various incarnations of the DSM as respectable legitimating documents. This is dishonest. Confronted with the DSM, the challenge we face is to delegitimize the authenticators, the APA and DSM, not distract attention from their fundamental phoniness by ridiculing one or another “diagnosis” and trying to remove it from the magical list.

    He notes that the argument has moved from the realm of medical science into the realm of political science. Now it has become a matter of legitimizing the “mental illness” label by political decree.

    But times have changed. Fifty years ago it made sense to assert that mental illnesses are not diseases. It makes no sense to do so today. Professional debate about what counts as mental illness has been replaced by political-judicial decree. The controversy about the nature of so-called mental diseases/disorders has been settled by the holders of political power: They have decreed that “mental illness is a disease like any other.” Political power and professional self-interest have united in turning false beliefs into lying facts: “Mental illness can be accurately diagnosed, successfully treated, just as physical illness” (President William Clinton, 1999). “Just as things go wrong with the heart and kidneys and liver, so things go wrong with the brain” (Surgeon General David Satcher, 1999).

    I’m not sure that this is an argument that can be settled by political decree with any more finality than it was settled by medical decree. You can declare anything you want this or that, making it so is another matter. It remains what it is. Certainly the debate has moved into the political arena as politicians, aided and abetted by the mass media, are now trying to lay the blame for violent crime in this country on people in crisis or people labeled “mentally ill”. If I recall, in previous times such crime has been blamed on people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds than that which made up the majority of citizens. In even earlier times, witches and religous heretics were thought to be the source of natural disasters and calamities.

    Dr. Szasz ends his article by stating that, in this day of deceit and self-deceit on the part of the political and medical establishments, the simple act of telling the truth has become a revolutionary one.

    • The “vanity of the phoney expert”. Beautiful.

      Working in nursing I generally found that junior psychiatrists tended to have things in common apart from doctors who continued to work as physicians or surgeons.

      The shrinks tended to be vague about why they had studied medicine and what aims they had had when they began at med school. I never knew a shrink who had a parent who was doctor whereas many physicians and surgeons had parents who were doctors.

      And they were generally unintelligent, uninteresting people.

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