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.