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Myth of Mental Illness

February 17, 2012

the mainstay of treatment – “According to a 2006 Canadian government report, mental health is the No. 1 cause of disability in Canada, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of disability claims and 70 per cent of the total costs. Drugs are now the mainstay of treatment, replacing “talk therapy” of the 1980s. Shouldn’t the prevalence of mental illness be declining? Whitaker, for the record, is not telling patients to flush their medications away. Some people are helped by medications and psychiatric drugs do have a place in the physician’s tool box, Whitaker said. “The question is, what place? We need to let evidence guide that decision,” he said. Whitaker argues that industry-funded drug trials fail to answer the question of whether psychiatric medications improve the long-term course of major mental disorders…” (Are antidepressants doing more harm than good?)

expectancy and conditioning – “…Instead of listening to Prozac, have we been listening to placebo all along? Research repeatedly appears to show that: antidepressants are little more than placebos, with very little therapeutic benefit but serious side-effects (70 per cent of people on Celexa and Paxil report sexual dysfunction, and in some, it carries on even when they stop taking the pills). The theory of chemical imbalance as a cause of depression is an unproven hypothesis; and doctors are prescribing the drugs mainly because of the “juggernaut of pharmaceutical promotion”, as the US psychiatrist Dr Daniel Carlat calls it. It’s not surprising there’s a US media furore – about 10 per cent of Americans over the age of six take antidepressants. In the UK, prescriptions for the drugs went up 43 per cent in the last four years to 23 million a year…This is not quite as damning as it sounds: placebos are extraordinarily powerful and can be “as strong as potent medications”. Placebo response is specific: placebo morphine eases pain, placebo antidepressants relieve depression. It’s a question of expectancy and conditioning: if you expect to feel better, you will, even if you’re getting negative side effects, because side effects, Kirsch says, convince people that they’ve been given a potent drug…” (What if the drugs don’t work?)

respect the rights – “…What is wrong with this approach is describing people as having a psychiatric “disease” or “illness” only because he or she doesn’t match up with a supposed diagnostician’s or with other people’s idea of how a person “should” be in standards of dress, behavior, thinking, or opinion. When it involves violating the rights of others, nonconformity with social norms or values must be curbed or stopped with various measures, criminal law being one example. But calling nonconformity or disliked behavior a “disease” or assuming it must be caused by a disease only because it is unacceptable according to currently prevailing values makes no sense. What causes us to do this is not knowing the real reasons for the thinking, emotions, or behavior we dislike. When we don’t understand the real reasons, we create myths to provide an explanation. In prior centuries people used myths of evil spirit or demon possession to explain unacceptable thinking or behavior. Today most of us instead believe in the myth of mental illness. Believing in mythological entities such as evil spirits or mental illnesses gives an illusion of understanding, and believing a myth is more comfortable than acknowledging ignorance. Calling disapproved thinking, emotions, or behavior a mental illness might be excusable if mental illness was a useful myth, but it isn’t. Rather than helping us deal with troubled or troublesome persons, the myth of mental illness distracts us from the real problems that need to be faced. Rather than being caused by a “chemical imbalance” or other biological problem, the nonconformity, misbehavior, and emotional reactions we call mental illness are the result of difficulties people have getting their needs met and the behavior some people have learned during their lifetimes. The solutions are teaching people how to get their needs met, how to behave, and using whatever powers of enforcement are needed to force people to respect the rights of others. These are the tasks of education and law enforcement, not medicine or therapy…” (Does Mental Illness Exist?)

Myths and FAQs

Myth: People diagnosed with mental illness can “snap out of it” if they really try.
Fact: False. Mental illness is a real bodily disease, not just “in your head.”

Myth: “Mental retardation” is a type of mental illness.
Fact: False. In both, physiology affects behavior. But that’s where the similarity ends. Most developmentally disabled people have no psychiatric problems; many persons diagnosed with mental illness are very intelligent.

Myth: If you get too close to a bag lady, there is a good chance that she will become physically violent.
Fact: False. There is a good chance that she will become verbally abusive if you push her too far. But violence is just as rare among bag ladies, street corner orators, and persons living with bipolar or schizophrenic disorders as it is in the general population.

Myth: I’m with you on that. But if a manic depressive has not taken his lithium that morning, watch out! Because if he gets mad at you, his disorder will give him such a big adrenalin rush that he will have the strength to kill you by accident.
Fact: False again. That’s just not how things work in the human body.

Myth: If you are diagnosed with a mental illness, kiss your chances of a brilliant career goodbye.
Fact: No way. If you have talent, you have talent. Use it! Many people diagnosed with mental illness have succeeded famously.

Myth: When hiring people who have been diagnosed mentally ill, give them behind-the-scenes jobs. They are too emotional to deal with the general public; they are likely to lose their temper.
Fact: Listen to yourself! Do you hear that prejudiced tone? To accurately judge somebody’s abilities or flaws, look at who the person is, not their label. The best way to judge who a person is is to look at their past behavior (credit record, past job performance, references, etc.) To judge somebody according to a category is prejudice.

Myth: Bipolar affective disorder is characterized by frequent mood swings.
Fact: No. In fact, the opposite is often true (with the exception of some rapid cyclers). Bipolars often get stuck in one (high or low) mood, despite what happens in their lives. A bipolar woman may become manic and, regardless of anything bad that happens to her, stay manic for weeks, even months. A bipolar man may not be able to pull out of a depression for years. In real life, good and bad things happen much more often than every few months. And the moods of those of us not diagnosed with bipolar disorder tend to correspond fairly well to what is actually happening. The moods of untreated bipolars, on the other hand, correspond more to the chemicals in their brains than to the events in their lives. This gives most bipolars less frequent mood swings than others, on average.

Myth: Look, I’m just trying to be honest: I have seen with my own eyes how bipolars tend to lose their tempers over practically nothing. Their calm mood swings into an angry mood at the drop of a hat.
Fact: I will reciprocate your honesty. I have seen with my own eyes how people, upon learning that George is a bipolar, will goad George into an angry outburst. That is called a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most bipolars take lithium. 80% of those who take lithium become able to control their tempers as well as, and often better than, the rest of us. The other 20%, unfortunately, continue to have a temper problem. The 80% are then pre-judged as also unable to control their tempers. That is called prejudice (Myths and FAQs About Mental Illness).

The Myth Of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct is a controversial book by Thomas Szasz and published in 1961. It is highly influential in the anti-psychiatry movement. In it, Szasz argues that mental illness is a social construct created by doctors, and the term can only be used as a metaphor given that an illness must be an objectively demonstrable biological pathology, whereas psychiatric disorders meet none of these criteria. Szasz says that what psychiatrists label mental illness is in fact nothing more than a deviation from the consensus reality or common morality. He states that mental illness, madness and even many crimes are created or defined by cultural controls, morals and “real world” views of big science, religion and government, similar to heretics, pagans, and sinners before the industrial revolution. In parts he agrees with Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowen, R. D. Laing, Arthur Janov and Peter Breggin. All are psychiatrists, except Janov, who is a psychologist. Szasz supports his arguments by pointing out that individuals alleged to be mentally ill feel they have much to gain because by appearing to be dependent they motivate others to action. Szasz asserts that a positive, present and honest relationship is the basis of his therapy. The book extends the arguments of Szasz’s paper “The Myth of Mental Illness”, first published in 1960. In it, Szasz argues that beliefs cannot be caused by brain disease, although such artifacts as visual (or hearing) defects can (Wikepedia).

The Myth of Mental Illness
Homicides by people with mental illness: myth and reality
Mental Health: Myths and Facts
The myths and realities of youth and suicide
Top 10 Myths About Mental Illness
Understanding Mental Illness
Common Myths about Mental Illness
Case Example: Full Myths in Mental Illness Case
Fifty Years After The Myth of Mental Illness

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