Diagnose Not Lest Ye Be Diagnosed

There are few people more in need of mental health treatment today than mental health professionals, unless perhaps we think about treating the relatives of people with “mental illness” labels. Yes, the very people who lock people up should be locked up on account of their proclivity to lock people up. We should give it a “disease” label and treatment. Fair is only fair as foul is awfully foul. It’s just plain un-American.

My reason for going there? I’m seeing all these well intentioned people interested in doing something about “mental health issues”, and that something amounts to, in effect, throwing a flammable liquid on the fire in an effort to put it out. We have an epidemic of “mental illness” labeling in this country, and the method we’ve come up with for dealing with it is by doing everything within our powers to increase the amount of labeling going on.

Our schools, deathly afraid of producing psycho-killers, are training teachers to screen their classes for any indication of “mental illness”.  Isolating and treating the labeled student is supposed to be a violence prevention measure. If the kid is just a little weird and not violent in the slightest. It doesn’t matter. The weird student must bear a psychiatric label, and be scrutinized for his or her potential to do harm, however speculative.

It was rumored when I was a kid that we’d driven a teacher to distraction, or insane, for lack of a better term. No more. Now schools have got the conduct problem licked as conduct is no longer a grade on a report card. Bad conduct, misbehaving, is now, according to our pediatric psychiatrists, a bona fide “mental health disorder”. Given this circumstance, class clown is no longer bound for the circus, but rather for the loony bin. That’s right, clowning is a certifiable “disease”.

I had this friend with the “borderline” label who was going on to me about how important it is to take “mental disorders” seriously. I fell automatically into disagreement with this person. I think taking “mental disorder” seriously is the most direct way to developing a more “serious mental disorder” that I can imagine. Maintaining a sense of humor is the best medicine for this sort of thing. Whatever sort of “disorder” you might have developed, as long as you take it lightly, it can’t be serious.

Of course, if you don’t take your “mental disorder” seriously you are in danger of being nabbed for conduct disorder. Everybody has a “mental disorder”, even if the “mental disorder” a person has hasn’t been invented yet. Some of us just haven’t been caught. Were your “mental disorder” actually an order, that wouldn’t be so bad, unless, of course, it involved orders from the planet Xylon. Disorders from Xylon, that’s okay.

My point? Well, judging from the news, everyday of the week, we are locking up the wrong people. The people least responsible for greenhouse warming, mass extinction, corporate imperialism, poverty and international conflict are often the people who we have selected to endure our psychiatric institutions as patient-prisoners.  I’d like to point out that this is more an instance of ruining the world rather than it is  of saving it. Have we made a mistake? Yes, I think so, and many mistakes at that.

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The Coming Plague

I have a friend who spends much of his time traveling in Asia. He is a psychiatric survivor, and he says he prefers Asia to the USA precisely because people are not going on and on about “mental health”, “mental health treatment”, and “mental disorders” all the time there.

In the USA, on the other hand, it is thought right and proper to air “mental health” laundry. It is thought by some, not yours truly, that bringing “mental illness” out of the shadows so-to-speak is a way of attacking the “stigma” associated with psychiatric labels.  The problem with this way of thinking is that it doesn’t acknowledge that the “stigma” comes with the label, in fact, you could say they are identical.

I’m sick of hearing about “mental health” myself. I’m sick of hearing about “mental health treatment”, and I’m sick of hearing about “mental disorders”. In some quarters of the nation this medico-literary emphasis is truly obsessive, and what comes of obsessing? Well, often it is excess.

There is a demand for “mental illness” because without  “mental illness” “mental health” wouldn’t have a market. Perhaps, for the sake of clarity, I need to rephrase the last sentence. A rich supply of “mental illness” fuels the market for “mental health treatment” which in turn creates a further demand for “mental illness”, a demand all too easily met.

The “mental illness” rates have been soaring for years. The World Health Organization tells us “mental illness” is set to distance physical illness as the number one cause of disability in the world. This means the number one reason for “disability payments” by the government, supplied by labor of  tax payers, in the future is going to be “mental illness”.

Right away we’ve got a problem. For all the efforts psychiatry has made to claim psychiatric problems somatic, this supposition remains devoid of solid proof.  Psychiatry has been notoriously unsuccessful, not as a business, but as a branch of medical science. The proof is in the pudding, and in this instance, the pudding is more and more rather than less and less “mental illness”.

In those instances where it is claimed a person has a “mental illness”, recovery, or a cure, if you will, is seen as out of the question. Of course, this is a relative statement. So called minor “mental disorders” lending themselves to effective treatment much more readily than major “mental disorders”. It work’s the other way, too. It is not unheard of for minor “disorders” to develop into major “disorders”, and then, well, we’ve once again hit the snag of poor prognoses.

I would say that this obsession is not a very healthy one. Were we to talk less about “mental health”, I feel certain that we as a nation would be less beset with what are sometimes referred to as “mental health issues”.  Were we to diagnose less of it, well, there you go. Already a cure is at hand. Problems demand solutions. When “mental health issues” are communication and situational problems, no amount of “medical treatment” nonsense is going to solve them.