Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Mental Illness

The NYT's latest article on mental illness features Dr. Darrel A. Regier & Dr. Stuart Kirk who are critical of the claim that, "more than half of Americans will develop a mental illness at some point in their lives".

They counter that this absurd number is due to the use inappropriate diagnostic criteria. Reanalysis of the data using a more stringent criteria revealed very different numbers, ones that do not make mental illness seem so quotidian.
In a 1984 survey, investigators identified social phobia primarily by asking about excessive fear of speaking in public. They found a one-year prevalence rate of 1.7 percent.
But psychiatrists soon concluded that other kinds of fears, including a fear of eating in public or using public restrooms, were variations of social phobia. When, in 1994, these and others questions were included, the prevalence rate rose to 7.4 percent.
Dr. Regier re-evaluated the data using a different criterion for severity and found a much lower rate: 3.2 percent. Last week, Dr. Kessler reported a rate of 6.8 percent.

Wow, fear of using public restrooms is a type of social phobia! With criteria like that, I'm surprised that the numbers are so low.

This over counting of the numbers of the mentally ill, is a result of our culture of what the authors of One Nation Under Therapy call "therapism" the idea that man is psychologically fragile and can achieve mental stability only by means of professional assistance. A result of this trend in America & Europe is the intense effort to shield people from anything which might "damage their self-esteem". We are all asked to speak in non-offensive politically correct speech & teachers are forbidden from using red pens & competitive games such as dodgeball are being eliminated, all in the name of eliminating potentially harmful experiences.

This philosophy or doctrine, which operates under the aegis of creating a kinder, gentler, more fair world, is far more harmful than it appears. In undermining the human capacity for resilience & self defense, it reduces people to helpless victims, who are prey to the events around them. They are made to believe in their inabilities rather than abilities, with constant warnings of the delicate nature of their psyches. This brainwashing is no different from that of those offered to Victorian ladies who were constantly exhorted not to strain their nerves by reading & thinking.

As Theodore Dalrymple points out, "therapism is dehumanizing, since it sees people as passive products of their past, as inanimate objects are. Since therapists do not, because they cannot, see themselves in the same way, but rather as fully evolved beings endowed with free will, they are inevitably inclined to speak to the objects of their ministrations de haut en bas". Indeed, it is ironic how this doctrine so dedicated to victimology creates victims.

One of the most striking things to Western therapists who rushed to treat the survivors of recent Asian tsunami, was the refusal of the people to believe that they needed to talk & receive therapy for their experiences. The people asked for food, shelter, medicine & jobs, but not therapy. They believed that they were capable of not only surviving, but resuming their lives despite the tragedy they faced. I can't imagine anything being more elevating to self-esteem than the knowledge that one is capable of thriving in the harshest of circumstances.

While I certainly will not deny the existence of mental illnessness which are debilitating & requiring of treatment, I do contend that the culture of "therapism" has clouded our judgment as to the nature of the human mind. Therapy has become the new opium of the masses, dulling all sensation & flattening the highs & lows of the emotional spectrum. In "protecting" us from harm, it stifles true expression of the human self & prevents independent action.

In order to truly ascertain the numbers of our mentally ill, we must end our campaign to boost self-esteem & resolve all our inner struggles through therapy. The human mind is incredibly strong, it's high time to kick the couch & believe in our-selves.

"The human mind is incredibly strong, it's high time to kick the couch & believe in our-selves."

This is great advice for a lot of people! While I agree with you that there are definitely mental illnesses that should be treated professionally, I believe that there are many psychologists, therapists, counselors, etc. who would NEVER give that kind of advice to their patients. Let's face it: if the patient gets 'well', he won't need to go to see his therapist anymore, no?

I think, too, that we have so much leisure and luxury that we almost need to CREATE problems for ourselves. Having all out basic wants and needs well-satisfied with really very small effort on our part, all the energy and intelligence and force of will that we have developed as a species to help us survive has no outlet. So, instead of worrying about where the next meal is coming from, or how to avoid the sabretooth tiger lurking outside the cave, we obsess about our weight, or our mother-in-law, or something equally trivial. Then some obliging psychologist comes along and slaps a fancy name on our hang-up and tells us that it's NATURAL to be that way, but with therapy and the right drugs...

I'm not trying to demean those who do see a therapist or take drugs such as antidepressants. When one has a problem such as anxiety or depression, it's certainly very real to him (been there!). But I do agree with the criticisms of 'therapism' offered by NYgirl in her great post.
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