Addressing the Mental Health Crisis:  What Really Matters

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Evidence increasingly suggests that psychological difficulties are on the rise.  The Global Disease Burden Study, published in August of 2013, declared that “mental and substance use disorders are the leading cause of nonfatal illness worldwide, with a global disease burden that trumps that of HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, diabetes, or transport illnesses.”  Depression is the number one cause of illness and disability in 10-19 year-olds worldwide.  Suicide is the number three cause of death. (Health for the World’s Adolescents World Health Organization. Online May 14, 2014).  “A large survey of randomly selected adults, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and conducted between 2001 and 2003, found that an astonishing 46% met criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) for having had at least one mental illness within four broad categories at some time in their lives.”(Angell, M., “The Illusions of Psychiatry,” New York Review of Books, July 14, 2011).  “The CDC, on May 3, 2013, reported that the suicide rate among Americans ages 35-64 years increased 28.4% between 1999 and 2010 (from 13.7 suicides per 100,000 people in 1999 to 17.6 per 100,000 in 2010).” (Bruce Levine, “Why the Rise of Mental Illness? Pathologizing Normal, Adverse Drug Effects, and a Peculiar Rebellion,” Mad in America, July 31st 2013).  In 1987, there were less than 20,000 severely mentally disabled children — now there are almost 600,000.  The number of children under the age of six receiving SSI have tripled over the last ten years, to more than 65,000 (AEA, Robert Whitaker).

For some, these findings raise questions about whether statistics are inflated, or are actually the result of another factor besides rising psychological difficulties.  These topics are beyond the scope of this article.  But it is reasonable to assert that greater openness regarding psychological concerns, increased classification of mental disorders, widening of diagnostic categories, or any other artificial inflating explanation falls short of accounting for the tremendous growth of psychological struggles today.  Studies are increasingly finding that even accounting for all these factors, psychological complications just continue to grow.

For those who actually believe that psychological problems are on the rise, serious inquiries must ensue.  Many have rightly raised concerns about iatrogenic culprits, including drug-induced effects, but this too seems to fall short of accounting for the meteoric rise. Except for those forced to take psychiatric drugs, I would suggest that most seek out drugs in the hope of relieving iniquities caused by factors such as those I discuss below;  unfortunately, this may not only lead to avoiding addressing the real issues, but may even lead to further complications of the drugs.  Given this, I present five areas for further discussion, which I believe are causal agents for the mental health crisis.  I will only provide a brief overview of each for brevity and readability sake.

Sleep:  As I noted in a recent article (Schroeder, J., “There’s More to Sleep than Shuts the Eye: Waking Up to All That Sleep Does for Our Health & Wellbeing,” Mad in America, December 20, 2014), research increasingly indicates that sleep is tied to almost every health marker imaginable, especially psychological well-being.  In the United States, evidence suggests that we are sleeping 20% less than a hundred years ago.  There is a 25-40% prevalence of sleep difficulties in childhood and evidence indicates that sleep problems have increased over the past three decades (Mindell JA, Owens J. A Clinical Guide to Pediatric Sleep: Diagnosis and Management of Sleep Problems. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2003). Demands and distractions for many adults have only heightened during all hours, and with the 24/7 nature of our current culture, sleep has largely been denigrated as a second class citizen.  Chronic sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality are increasingly the norm, not the exception, and so likely follows our mental health.

Physical Health:  In the United States, the prevalence of pediatric obesity has more than tripled during the past 4 decades.  If current trends hold out, the generation represented by children born since 2000 is estimated to have a 35% chance of developing diabetes and represents the first generation in the United States since the Civil War to have a life expectancy shorter than that of their parents.  Type 2 diabetes accounts for roughly 90-95% of all diabetes cases in the United States (LINK 2010 estimates – Am. Family Physicians, 81, 7 863-870).  9-10% (29 million) of all people in US has diabetes (CDC, 2014 National Diabetes Statistical Report).  One-third of adults today [worldwide] have high blood pressure, when in 1900 only 5 percent had high blood pressure. (Cohen, R., “Sugar Love,” National Geographic, August 2013).  Meanwhile, studies have consistently linked mental health to fitness, including in young kids. (Zametkin, A.J., Zoon, C.K., Klein, H.W., & Munson, S. “Psychiatric aspects of child and adolescent obesity: A review of the past 10 years.” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, February 2004, 43(2), 134-150).  Early soda and junk food consumption alone are linked with anxiety, inattention, and aggression (e.g., Jacka et al., (2013) JAACAP and Suglia (2013) Journal of Pediatrics).  The best predictor of cognitive health over the age of fifty is physical health.  As the physical health of our nation, and much of our world declines, it is no surprise that mental health would abide by the same trends.

Media & Technology Immersion:  The average 8-18 year-old in 2009 spent more than7 hours, 30 minutes exposed to technology a day, but close to 30% of this time was engaged in multi-tasking (e.g., watching television while texting).  The total exposure is close to 10 hours, 45 minutes, which was almost 44% more than in 1999, and exposure has only continued to grow.  The average adolescent female sends and receives almost 3,200 texts a month (research cited on both pages available through Media Clearinghouse) Screen time is consistently associated with poor outcomes in physical health, academics, traffic safety, aggression, compliance, depressed mood, attention, and creative play in youth (AAP, 2011).  Increased evidence indicates that popular media is strongly associated with more promiscuous sex (Garcia et. al, (2012) review featured in Feb. Psychology Monitor).  Sexually-active adolescents are at a higher risk for suicide, depression, and drug/alcohol abuse (AAP, 2005).  Violent media has consistently been linked to increased aggressive acts, thoughts, feelings, arousal, and decreased prosocial behaviors, albeit with small to moderate effects (Anderson, C.A. and Bushman, B.J. “Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, and Prosocial Behavior.” Psychological Science, September 2001, 12(5)).  Media and technology used strategically can be an asset.  Serious questions abound whether most are using it in this way, and with these concerns come logical threats to psychological well-being.

Family Discord & Instability:  Divorce rates skyrocketed from the mid 60’s to the 1980’s before leveling off. Divorce and parent’s relational satisfaction has been consistently shown as a predictor of childhood distress (Bogels, S.M., & Brechman-Toussaint, M.L. (2006); Hoyt, L.A., Cowen, E.L., Pedro-Carroll, J.L., & Alpert-Gillis, L.J. (1990).   At the same time, divorce rates began to level out, unmarried couple households began to rise dramatically into the present. Kids born to cohabiting parents versus married ones have over five times the risk of experiencing their parents’ separation (e.g., P. Smock, 2010). In 2000, 41 percent of all unmarried-couple households included a child under the age of 18. In 1987, it was 21%.   (U.S. Census Bureau, March 2000).  Studies find that kids living in cohabitating households are more likely to suffer from psychological difficulties, including drug use, depression, and dropping out of school, than those in married homes (e.g., Wilcox, “Why Marriage Matters,” [2011], p. 1). Residing in a cohabitating household puts a child at 8 times greater risk for harm than when living with married biological parents (HHS Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, “Abuse, Neglect,  Adoption and Foster Care Research, National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, NIS-4, 2004-2009” [March 2010]).

In a 2005 Pediatrics study of inflicted-injury deaths over eight years, children living with unrelated adults were nearly 50 times as likely to die of inflicted injuries than children residing with two biological parents. Youth in homes with a single parent and no other adults in residence had no increased risk of inflicted-injury death. (P.G. Schnizter, “Child deaths resulting from inflicted injuries: household risk factors and perpetrator characteristicsPediatrics, 2005; 116:687-93).  Instability, trauma, and safety concerns have long been huge risk factors for psychological complications across the lifespan, which ties in directly to changing social, familial trends.

Faith:  Church attendance has steadily dropped over the past decades, and many Americans are not actually where they report to be.  As noted in a New York Times article (Angier, N., “The Bush Years: Confessions of a Lonely Atheist,” New York Times, January 14, 2001), best estimates are that the percentage of adults who actually attended religious services during the previous weekend dropped from 42% in 1965 to 26% in 1994.  Plunging religious membership has led to massive church closures in Europe.  Although religion gone badly is fraught with many negative outcomes, faith, spirituality, and religion have long been a source of coping and resiliency for many people. Large-scale studies have generally indicated that faith and a strong relationship with a higher power is associated with less anxiety, greater social support, increased relational stability, less substance use, and fewer negative behaviors.  Greater religiousness was found to be associated with fewer symptoms of depression in a meta-analysis of nearly 100,000 participants.  However, it appears the best predictor of whether faith is associated with less anxiety and better adjustment is when people have a strong relationship with a higher power.  If faith-based practices are truly declining in many areas, and this has long been a source of coping with psychological challenges, then psychological well-being may very well follow suit.

As we move from layers of substance to layers of motivation, there is another discussion worth having that deserves a book in itself.  In fact, one has been written entitled Generation Me:  Why Today’s Young People are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before.   When Twenge and colleagues analyzed the largest MMPI sample to date, which found increases in almost every area of psychological struggles over the past eighty years, something particularly noteworthy emerged.  Most attempts to test correlations with many other demographic, generational, and/or psychological factors yielded no significant findings, with two exceptions.  One was the rate of divorce, which was strongly correlated with every major scale on the MMPI.

The second clear association was that of intrinsic versus extrinsic goals endorsed by young people over the past eighty years.  For decades, polls have consistently showed that adolescent and young adults of later generations increasingly cite extrinsic factors, such as the pursuit of power, status, money, and image, as the primary reasons for what they did.  This contrasted with earlier generations, who more often reported that they were called to particular interests or careers because of intrinsic motivators, such as public good, civic-mindedness, affiliation, and deeper meaning.  Although difficult to demonstrate a causal relationship between psychological difficulties and self-centered endeavors, it raises serious questions about whether the me-focused culture may have a lot to do with our psychological crisis.

It was written, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy: 10).  Almost two thousand years later, C.S. Lewis wrote, “The essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride.”  Collectively, it is hard to not wonder whether the combination of the two may be heating the melting pot of our psychological woes of today.

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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30 COMMENTS

  1. NIMH, psychiatry and Big Pharma would all have us believe that there is a “mental health crisis” in America, and throughout the world. Why? Because that is what sustains the whole enterprise. Mental health is just as much a myth as mental illness, but it is a powerful myth that sucks ludicrous amounts of money from innocent, suffering people. Sleep, physical health, media and technology use, family relationships and faith are all crucial elements in the overall well-being of individuals, but anyone who falls into the clutches of psychiatry and psychotropic drugging will have all of those things and more stripped away from him. If anything, the self-fulfilling prophecy of psychiatry is growing larger because those who should oppose it remain silent, and those who would oppose it are silenced.

    There is no doubt that selfishness, pride, and the love of money are at the root of all evil, and that such evil causes waves of suffering to crash through society. There is no doubt that people should take better care of their health and their families. But the propaganda of a “mental health crisis” serves the purposes of those who are most invested in the selfishness, pride and love of money that threatens to destroy the world, namely proponents of psychiatry, Big Pharma and the therapeutic state.

    C.S. Lewis wrote clearly on this topic as well: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

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  2. I do agree with you. The “crisis” is one that is largely fabricated for primarily economic gains. The removal of the mental health industry would devastate the economy of the US as it holds a substantial portion of the gross domestic products.

    I love your quote: “If anything, the self-fulfilling prophecy of psychiatry is growing larger because those who should oppose it remain silent, and those who would oppose it are silenced.” This in itself is the sad history of psychiatry and remains to be.

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  3. The only mental health crisis in this country is the mental health industry. It’s ALL about so called mental illness. You put more money into the mental health system, and you are going to get more mental patients. That’s the way it works.

    At this time it’s gotten even more ridiculous. All this mental health industry propaganda talks about people who need treatment, but who aren’t receiving that treatment. Nobody is talking about who determines that “need”. I never wanted any mental health treatment, but that didn’t prevent the mental health authorities from “treating” me. I still say I never needed mental health treatment and, in fact, that treatment I received was actually mistreatment. If people could refuse mental health treatment, there would be a lot fewer mental patients. If mental health treatment weren’t a matter of torturing or brain washing people into confessing (“admitting”?) a “sickness”, there would be a lot fewer mental patients. We’ve got so many mental patients because money is going into having so many mental patients. Turn off the spending stream, and you will find much fewer mental patients.

    If you look at the problem historically the numbers have done little since early on but rise. Manufacturing a crisis in mental health adds fuel to the mental health industry and, thus, it means a mental patient manufacturing boom, but “cure”. Like I was saying, “mental health” is all about “mental illness”. We have a large mental patient population because we’re paying for it. Stop paying for it, and that population is bound to shrink.

    I feel like Ronald Reagan taught me a lesson when it came to the big institutions. The problem then becomes the community mental health system, you know, that thing that voted in around the time of the Kennedy administration.In other words, who needs a big prison out in the sticks when you can have many mini-prisons close to home. Stop funding the prisons, psychiatric prisons, altogether, and then maybe we’d be getting somewhere with, what did you call them, “psychological difficulties”?

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    • I find a different thing interesting: they do talk about people who need treatment but they rarely if ever talk about the people who have received it. Maybe it’s because this side of the story is a little bit less favourable to them?

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      • When you are not thinking, I think it helps to be indiscriminate. You see the people who are talking about this need people have for treatment are usually not the people who would be undergoing treatment themselves. This being the case, need is equated with receiving. If they must impose that treatment on another person, in their minds, it must be because the other person “needed” it. I don’t think, given such fuzzy reasoning, it matters much that this figure ends up, in that it is always an estimation, being an abstraction. Don’t get me wrong, given some fancy editing, there are success stories. I’m not even sure the success stories are that important really. It’s the failure stories that we should be paying more attention to that we tend to brush over. Where would these people be who had received treatment if they could refuse treatment? Probably not stuck in some kind of lop sided relationship of dependency on power, and that sounds like a better place if you ask me.

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      • Very true. The point I was trying to make above is that I don’t think people receive treatment so much because it is thought that they are in ill health as it is because it is thought that somehow their irregular behaviors could become a threat to public safety. In other words, it is policing that gets people receiving treatment. A sort of policing that perhaps we’d be better off scraping altogether.

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  4. Hi,

    I like your article, but take exception to some of your comments about declines in faith based organizations as one cause of the increase in mental health difficulties….I think it’s important to separate the benefits of connection and community from the problems of organized religion and many of the harms it can cause. I have always felt alienated from the idea that a group of people must all share the same religious beliefs, the same beliefs as their parents and their religious community…this feels oppressive and leaves little or no room for free thought. In addition, religious dogma often leads to conflicted and guilt ridden people who struggle to accept aspects of themselves forbidden by their religion’s “God.” Most religions are very judgmental and separate the good from the bad, the holy from the sinners. This type of thinking prevents the type of honest, reflective soul searching that humanity needs to understand our impulses for love, for hate, for peace or for war…Writing someone off as ‘evil’ or a ‘terrorist’ asks little of us and sets us up for continuing cycles of pain as a world community.

    However, the benefits of feeling connected to a community and something beyond oneself is powerful and the part of organized religion that may explain the positives you refer to as associated with religious communities…I think it is very important to distinguish between the oppressive and “us vs them” elements of religion and the benefits of community and connection to the mystery and wonder of our existence.

    Signed,

    A spiritual person and “non-believer”

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    • Appreciate your comments on this matter. You bring up a number of important points, and ones which really deserve a much longer forum to discuss. I certainly agree that community and transcendence are a huge key to why faith can be a buffering force against psychological difficulties. However, I think that negative views towards organized religion are often unfairly propagated. There is no doubt that religion used the wrong way, or oppressive or abusive acts can have horrible outcomes. But as practicing Catholics, I can tell you that my wife and I see our faith as anything but oppressive and restrictive – in fact, the deeper we have explored the faith we have grown up with, the more liberated we feel we have become. The first and foremost liberation is that we are all imperfect sinners in need of something much greater – although I used to regard that as demoralizing, I now actually would say it is one of, if not the most, freeing realities that I have ever come to known. It opens up opportunities for self-improvement among many other things that were simply never available.

      The other way that I feel currently trends in religion and spirituality have negatively impacted our psychological health is that so many people have gotten away from faith practices that were not just good for faith, but also their overall well-being. One quick example is the discipline of fasting, which has largely fallen by the wayside even for many people actively practicing religion. Long regarded as a measure of personal sacrifice, increasing research has not surprisingly found that responsible fasting can actually help an individual improve self-control and increase a number of positive physical markers associated with energy and endurance. Connectedness is great, but I worry that without incorporating disciplined practices, we are actually losing many of the benefits that faith can provide.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment. I really appreciate your thoughts.

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      • James,
        Thank you for your sincere and thoughtful reply.

        I am glad you find benefit from your Catholic faith. But, as an example of religious oppression, how do you reconcile your religion’s attitudes toward gay marriage, birth control and the full equality of women? These are examples of what I find oppressive about organized religion…and I wonder how you would think I might be “unfairly propagating” negative attitudes by bringing these things up…

        My daughter’s friend recently asked her priest, during first communion classes, why women were not allowed equal rights in the Catholic Church and why they could not become priests. She was sent to the back of the sanctuary for asking such a question. No answer was given other than she should know not to ask “a question like that.”

        I cannot feel good about these things, but feel good about human community and groups of people coming together to create a spiritual sharing…

        Thanks again and all the best to you…

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        • I didn’t grow up Catholic, but consider myself a believer in the catholic (meaning universal) religion. To me, belief in the catholic religion is about belief that Jesus’ teachings, and all who personally abide by his teachings, will be the saved, irregardless of their worldly faith. And, hopefully some day, when it is only the decent left upon this earth, this will be the one religion that will ultimately bring about peace on earth, “… on earth as it is in heaven” is the ultimate goal.

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        • Thanks again for continuing this discussion. It is really one of the things I appreciate greatly about MIA is that people of seemingly very divergent opinions can come together about important issues.

          Okay, a couple of initial thoughts about your questions and comments. First of all, if the question posed by your daughter’s friend was handled in the manner you mentioned, that was horrible. Anyone at any time, especially young children, should be allowed and supported in any question they have, and be given a reasonable explanation other than that is what the Church teaches. Otherwise, how is anyone supposed to understand the faith? Second, there is no doubt that many of the Catholic beliefs are challenging for even those of myself who are practicing Catholics, and especially so given that many beliefs of our current culture are generally different. I have struggled with many of the Catholic teachings ever since I came to an age I could really consider them.

          That being said, there was once a well-known bishop (Bishop Sheen) that said (and I will paraphrase slightly I am sure) that there are “many people who disagree with the Church’s teachings. But there are very few who actually disagree with the Church once they fully understand her teachings.”

          You bring up 3 of the most controversial teachings of today, and although I have some trepidation about opening myself in a vulnerable way in regards to these questions, I really value an open dialogue, so I will. As a starter, feel free to check out an article that I wrote on a different site (Aleteia), but please, please know that this title was not title I wanted to be printed (as some sites, unlike MIA, take ownership over only the title, not the content) as the title was supposed to be “Church Teaches; Science Reveals; Culture Says”

          http://www.aleteia.org/en/scienvironment/article/10-ways-that-science-is-proving-the-church-is-right-and-the-cultures-wrong-5881921179484160

          In regards to your specific topic areas, let me start with birth control. You might be shocked to find out (as I described in my own book “Into the Rising Sun”) that prior to getting married, I assumed that my wife and I would use birth control like 90-95% of other Catholics. And then she dropped the bomb on me that this was not going to happen because it did not correspond with both Catholic teachings and her own personal values. 16 years and 6 kids later, I now understand the underlying wisdom behind this even though it remains a hard teaching personally for certain reasons. But if you want a good starter on truly understanding why this teaching exists, check out Christopher West’s Theology of the Body, which you can find on Amazon.

          Gay Marriage – again, a really difficult teaching as I have close friends and family members who are directly affected by this teaching. I also struggle a lot between questions of civil unions vs. gay marriage, and also what our society rightly should allow and provide for partners of all kinds. But again, to truly understand the Church’s teachings, you really have to understand what drives what is perceived as oppression, but I believe is not what it seems. A great initial explanation is given by Fr. Michael Schmitz in a Lighthouse Catholic CD entitled, “From Love, By Love, For Love”. I have attached the link below:

          http://www.lighthousecatholicmedia.org/store/title/from-love-by-love-for-love?gclid=Cj0KEQiAr9ymBRDdqYrH6Mj5170BEiQAcRUsi8T1qmtzyGTZuboGmkHELnQ_XYwM-u1snPNnglpz30UaAtvx8P8HAQ

          Full Equality of Women. Again, you didn’t make it easy on me here 🙂 This is a struggle given that in the upper echelons of the church, men seem to have a clear and disproportional representation. But once again, I think a few things are critical. One is that you have to return to just how Christ ordained men in the church, but also significantly elevated women in his time and forever in a way that was shocking to people of the time. There is a lineage that comes from this that truly deserves deeper study and understanding that I can’t do justice here. But you also might be shocked to know that in the Church, there are as many Holy Days of Obligation dedicated to Mary as there is for Jesus, and there are thousands of canonized female saints, multiple female Doctors of the Church, etc…The Church “herself” is conceptualized in a feminine way as Christ is in a male way. Anyway, there are volumes upon volumes written on this topic, but I also think it is important to note that there are legions of women in all places, positions, and powers that hold the Catholic faith dear and do not regard it at all as oppressive. Check out “Women Speak for the Themselves” site to get a sense of just one contingent of Catholic women who believe to the contrary and why. But I certainly understand that from the outside, when all people see are male Popes, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, it seems like an old boys club. I believe when people take the time to understand, it is not (which as a male I realize my opinion may mean less) and my wife would be the first to proclaim this, even probably more than me.

          Okay, that is enough, but I hope at least a reasonable reply and I hope that others who read this understand that in the end, we are all in search of the truth. I am just trying to do my best and remaining compassionate, understanding, and respecting of all people, regardless of creed, culture, or conviction. I just think too often we are quick to judge, especially in using examples of when things go wrong (and not right), and don’t spend enough time considering why beliefs really exist.

          Thanks again for being willing to engage in this discussion

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  5. Thank you once again for taking the time to write back. I appreciate your well written and kind response. I read the article that you attached as well.

    For me, I cannot accept any doctrine that denies women access to birth control and formal power equal to men. I also cannot accept gay people being denied equal rights…(regarding the spread of HIV/AIDS mentioned in the article as associated with gay behavior, I would note that lesbians actually have the lowest rate of HIV/AIDS of any group of sexually active adults). Just because something has been practiced one way for a long time does not provide reason enough to continue the practice if it hurts people. For me, secular humanism is a good fit.

    Best Wishes to you and your family. I too deeply value our community and opportunity to dialogue at MIA.

    Thanks again

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    • I really appreciate your willingness to dialogue. I even more appreciate your mutual respect even in light of our differing views and beliefs. A few final thoughts. As I noted before, I have struggled with the issues you mentioned, and to be honest, it is only until I took on a much deeper study of these beliefs that I find they make more sense. But, still they are difficult, and I do believe above all that every person deserves a deep dignity and respect regardless of what life they live.

      A 2nd challenge, too, is that the Catholic Church attempts to preserve what she believes are divinely inspired teachings that at times defy our rational, human understanding as to all that they entail. In essence, as we take a human, worldly perspective, the Church professes to take an eternal, divinely perspective – at times, these two perspectives may not necessarily correspond, and therefore, may appear oppressive. But I think that for those who believe that there are eternal truths and that heaven does exist, our life on earth looks much more like a blip on the radar than our eternal destination, thereby making what we do here most important in how it affects the next life. Much of this, of course, is above my head, even as I work to understand and ponder more, but I do think that taking this perspective is necessary to understand better why certain teachings exist.

      Blessings to you and your family, too. And thanks to all that have made MIA a place where we can have whatever conversations we need to have.

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  6. Truth in Psychiatry and James

    First off I want to thank Truth in Psychiatry for raising the important challenges to James regarding the major forms of discriminations against women and gay people that reside within Catholic doctrine and practice.

    James, while it is true that these are important conversations to have in a civil manner here at MIA it does not eliminate the fact that the doctrines that you have defended here literally affect millions of people in this world. And there are powerful arguments (and I believe facts to them back up) that these doctrines and practices harm millions of people.

    I have read almost all of your blogs and have respected and learned from those viewpoints on several subjects. This blog on “Addressing the Mental Health Crisis: What Really Matters” I believes misses the mark and promote a somewhat covert and wrong political agenda.

    Your blog misses the most essential factor that matters in all of these issues confronting us in the movement against psychiatric abuse – POVERTY and the profit system that creates and sustains these forms of inequalities. It is that system and the traumas it produces on a daily basis that creates the level of stress and psychological harm to push people over the critical edge of human tolerance. To not address this issue lets the system off the hook and directs people towards secondary issues.

    As to the secondary issues, your position on sleep and physical health are clearly very important. However, your statistics about faith and the family are promoting a clear agenda that what the world needs now is more religion and traditional family values. Should we be waiting for the hereafter, as the slaves were preached to, to seek true liberation and freedom.

    You cannot escape the fact that the traditional family and the institution of marriage has not been very kind (an understatement) to half of the human race over many centuries. To promote an implied agenda that cohabitation and divorce is bad simply ignores how these particular values oppress millions of women who are often culturally forced to stay in very unequal and outright abusive marriages. The freedom to divorce (without legal, economic, psychological, religious or cultural restraints) allows people the freedom to actually love at a higher level if they choose to continue. Women who remain in abusive marriages are oppressed and the children who both witness this abuse and most often are themselves the victims of patriarchy abuse will suffer in the long term. What does living within these abusive marriages teach children about love and how people should treat other human beings, especially women.

    On the issue of contraception, it is also easy for you given your education and economic status to promote the agenda opposed to contraception, and promote the joys of having 6 children. Your children are blessed to have such devoted, economically stable, and competent parents. BUT to deny half of humanity the right to have complete control over contraception, reproduction, and their bodies, is to end up supporting laws and policies that harm millions of women. One pregnancy at the wrong time and place in a woman’s life could end up subjecting that woman to years, or even a life time of economic and psychological degradation.

    In under developed countries the position of powerful churches and religions (negatively influencing government leaders) has denied funding for birth control where there ware very high levels of HIV/AIDS. It is a fact that this exposed millions of women and men to a life threatening disease. How many people have died as a result of this?

    One cannot pretend to be in favor of equality for women, or support feminism, and deny half of humanity the right to control their reproductive rights.

    Their is moral inconsistency in the moral high ground you claim to stake out at MIA. When it comes to the issues confronting women and gay people in this world you have resorted to the highest level of verbal and psychological gymnastics to defend those positions. These are not just intellectual debates, your position on these issues (and how your words might potentially influence people) affect the daily lives millions in the world.

    Gay people suffer enormous harm from those institutions that seek to deny them the right to experience sexual love and marriage with those of the same sex. Their is simply no way that you can defend this discrimination without resorting to quotations from the Bible. Does that mean you will defend a literal interpretation of scripture which also says that defiant children should be killed and adulterous women should be stoned.

    As you know there are many churches and religions that now (in the past they did not) fully accept gay people, divorce, contraception. and the full equality of women in society.

    I am currently away but I could not rest without responding on these crucial questions.

    Richard

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    • Hi Richard,

      As always, thanks for taking the time to weigh in. And I, too, have read a number of your articles and have benefitted from them, and I greatly appreciate your contributions to MIA. That being said, I want to ask you a favor. Repeatedly, in your comments, the word “agenda” kept coming up especially in regards to politics. If you knew me, you would quickly learn that there couldn’t be a word that less describes me than this as I have no energy or time for political agendas. I and the columns are about one thing – truth seeking. I am sure that I am wrong at times (although believe I am in good company) and I know that you and others may accuse me of moral gymnastics, too. But the ONLY thing I care about is understanding what truly is, no matter how inconvenient, unpopular, antiquated, or mundane they appear. Period. This column was no different.

      That being said, you raise great points as always, and as I have repeatedly said in this discussion, these are very difficult topics. I first ask you a question. Have you read or listened to any of the resources that I provided for Truth in Psychiatry, which of course are just the smallest of the tip of the iceberg in regards to these teachings? If not, it is really hard to criticize the Church if you don’t understand why the teachings exist, and how they can and do benefit many people who follow them (both on earth and to the best of our understanding, eternity). It would be like people criticizing many MIA’s writer’s positions on psychiatry without really taking the time to understand them.

      Second, I always find it ironic when people criticize the Catholic Church. There is no doubt that like any human entity, many mistakes have been made over the centuries and continue to be made. Yet the same people who criticize the church seem to forget that no institution provides more worldly care of the poor, education for the masses, healthcare for all, etc… than the Church itself, now and for centuries before. Many people want the Church to compromise her beliefs – no one is asking the Church to stop providing aid to people in all parts of the world, no matter how people have lived and what conditions they reside. Seems really questionable to demand both, especially if the Church truly believes she is carrying on divine teachings.

      In regard to your specific content areas, I should make it clear. I and millions of Catholics do support the right for someone being abused to divorce. I support the right for people to have birth control who want it, just not to force Catholic institutions to compromise their beliefs by providing it. I support those who are gay to live as they feel they should and for committed partners to have equal rights under the law. I personally may not, after much discernment and study, agree with all their decisions for different reasons, but I certainly respect their right to make them and will love them just the same. But I simply cannot accept, especially for my own children, that we simply should act as if every decision a person or culture makes is perfectly fine if evidence from many fronts continues to indicate it is an unhealthy or unsustainable practice. I won’t get into the AIDS discussion as I believe it would require you and I to sit down together and have a discussion given its highly charged nature, but I would simply suggest that birth control is not the primary issue we should be talking about. But I think there is chapter in the book “Unprotected” that approaches some of these issues well.

      Your comments about marriage and traditional family values are interesting to me. As I noted, I support the right for any person to divorce, and no one (rightly) in Catholic Church here in the US is saying otherwise. If they are, I disagree vehemently even though their may be issues to work through from a moral standpoint. I recognize that in other countries, a separation of church and state may not exist in this way, but again I think that people should have a right to divorce if they so choose.

      But to suggest that marriage is and of itself is not kind is to focus on when marriage goes wrong, not right. When marriage goes right, there is a massive wealth of information (which I only briefly touched on) that clearly indicates for the spouses and the kids that it can be very kind compared to the alternatives. Again, I don’t like assertion that I am promoting an agenda. I am promoting what I feel are best health practices for the social, psychological, physical, and social development of all involved in the family.

      The birth control topic is a tough one again, but to assert that I am obviously on the wrong is a bold statement. WHO recently labeled oral contraceptives as a Class One carcinogen. It has strong links to breast cancer and other health conditions. It takes a healthy state of being (fertility) and shuts it down, which common sense says that anytime this occurs, serious repercussions can and do happen. Imagine doing that for any other state of health in our body. As noted in 1968 when this belief was upheld in Humanae Vitae,

      “Let them first consider how easily this course of action [widespread birth control] could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection. Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.”

      Are you so sure that the Church is the wrong one, and the oppressor, and you are on the right side?

      As far as equality of women, the New Testament clearly records that Christ’s elevation of women was supremely radical for its time, and for centuries later. Christianity’s beliefs have long been misinterpreted and misconstrued to support anything less than equal rights for women. I recognize the male dominated hierarchy of the Pope, Bishops, priests, etc.. poses issues for many – but, as I mentioned to Truth in Psychiatry, how many people outside (and inside, even) the Church even understand why this exists. There are millions and millions of Catholic women (my wife included) who feel the Church is anything but oppressive.

      In the end, I have no agenda other than what I presume you do – to do the best we can to seek out greater clarity and understanding about what improves our world, for those living now and for generations to come. If I end up being wrong about everything, well, I apologize. But I really can’t face my kids every night and the families I see every day without knowing that I am doing my best to provide what will matter. I am sure I fail. But I ask you to seriously consider that I may not be part of the problem you perceive because I can guarantee you that it is not an easy or enjoyable thing to be putting this out on places like MIA given current societal beliefs.

      Thanks again for your time and thoughts.

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      • One of the issues about all the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and we must specify Roman since there are about 23 or 24 other groups under this umbrella of Catholic, is that they often have little foundation in real theology and “divine” origin, but are motivated and created out of the historical context of particular times. It’s so easy to claim that all the teachings and rules are of “divine” origin since this immediately cuts off discussion. After all, how can one question God? If you do some real historical research, real research from primary sources, you begin to have to wonder how a lot of this all came about. Roman Catholics are not encouraged to really question their faith, you’re just supposed to kind of accept it. During the 60’s and 70’s there was some questioning and dialog allowed, but with the election of the Polish pope, who was notoriously reactionary in many ways to the teachings of Vatican II, most of this was squelched and stopped. The German pope prior to Francis was the hatchet man for the Polish pope in the Curia in Rome. His job was to punish and keep everyone in line, especially theologians.

        Yes, the Roman Church has done a lot of philanthropic things, but this does not make up for the fact that the Roman Church has also done a great deal of harm to many groups of people worldwide. And it’s done it for century upon century.

        And of course, by posting this I’ve descended into something that should probably have gone to the forums. Oh well.

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      • James

        Thanks for responding to my difficult challenges to your blog and comments. Not all authors respond as you have, especially when the going gets rough.

        First off you took offense to my saying that your writing has an agenda. I believe all of us who write here have an agenda; some may be more obvious and more clearly spelled it out; others may be more subtle, hidden, or simply implied.

        All of us here when pushed to explain our ideas about what is wrong with the world and which direction we would like to see it go, will articulate some sort of agenda. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this process. This is how ideas and world views can be better dissected and we can all hopefully arrive at a closer approximation of the truth and determine the best direction humanity needs to travel in.

        The title of your blog “Addressing the Mental Health Crisis: What Really Matters” could not be more plain and obvious that you intended to put out your beliefs about WHAT REALLY MATTERS! Is this not an agenda either consciously or unconsciously implied. Within your ideas presented were clearly implied directions for where you believe people need seek answers and what that content might be. The issues you presented were of a very clear moral and political character. Ultimately the topics of women’s rights and equality, the marriage contract, and gay marriage, involve issues of morality AND law.

        Now I will quote one of your authored articles cited in your response to Truth in Psychiatry. You said the following:

        “Some say that the church is no longer relevant in the 21st century. But given the serious harm people are causing to themselves and others BY IGNORING OR DENYING CATHOLIC TEACHING (emphasis added) it seems that these truths are needed now, possibly more than ever.”

        This represents a clear agenda on your part. Why are “these truths needed now, possibly more than ever.” I believe it is because you think these “truths” will make the world a better place. There is absolutely nothing wrong with have these strong beliefs and propagating them to others. Just be prepared to defend them and not pretend that you have no agenda or direction where you believe humanity needs to go.

        You also stated the following in that the above cited article:

        “The Church teaches that homosexual acts are NOT HEALTHY (emphasis added) expressions of human sexuality.”

        Then you went on to explain some facts about the transmission of HIV through anal intercourse. So what should I assume from the phrase “not healthy”? If they are not healthy then therefore are they “sick” or “diseased.” I do not want to put words in your mouth but you must know that these ideas being propagated cause great harm to gay people and to those that become firmly entrenched into homophobia.

        Your answer above to me about discrimination towards women and gay people states that you support the “right” of women to have access to birth control and divorce and the “right” of gay people to live freely in society, but what you did not say is that you believe that these behaviors (use of contraception, divorce, gay sex etc.) are in fact “sins” according to Church doctrine that you not only uphold but vehemently defend. So much so that you write about the difficult dilemmas confronting Catholics in today’s world so as to convince them to NOT abandon the faith; yes, I am pointing out just another agenda.

        James, to tell women who have abortions or use contraception or to tell gay men that are engaged in “unhealthy” and “sinful” behaviors; all this causes great harm to people. It was Ashley Montague who coined the phrase “genetic theories of original sin” in criticizing the biological determinists of his time. It is a short walk to the Biological Psychiatry of today that tells people they are born with genetic brain diseases that causes their different or unbearable thoughts and behaviors.

        We are not born “sinners” we don’t need these kinds of harmful moral burdens. There is no such thing as “eternal sins.” Human being make mistakes not sins.

        This burden of “sin” and “damnation” is intimately connected to the type of self hatred that is so much apart of the symptoms and behaviors that get labeled as “mental illness.” Religion’s role in this phenomena in the world must be critically analyzed.

        James, I had a few more things to say but I am at a library computer and must end this session.

        Respectfully, Richard

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        • Hi Richard,

          Once again, you provide great thoughts. But I am afraid that one truth I can comfortably profess is that if I don’t end this discussion, my wife and kids might wonder if I am coming back to them 🙂 So for most of this, we are going to have to agree to disagree. If seeking out the truth means I have an agenda, whether or not this coincides with the Catholic faith, then I guess I have an agenda. But when the word political is added to it, I believe again that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

          I wanted to close with reflections about your final thoughts. You said as follows:

          We are not born “sinners” we don’t need these kinds of harmful moral burdens. There is no such thing as “eternal sins.” Human being make mistakes not sins.

          This burden of “sin” and “damnation” is intimately connected to the type of self hatred that is so much apart of the symptoms and behaviors that get labeled as “mental illness.” Religion’s role in this phenomena in the world must be critically analyzed.

          How do you know that the first three statements to be true – that we are not born sinners, there is no such thing as eternal sins, and human don’t sins? Where exactly do you claim to have this knowledge from as I am curious what authority you draw on? these are tremendously bold statements to state so assuredly. On my part, I am happy to acknowledge that I have no way of knowing absolutely for sure if the Catholic Church is correct what it teaches until the day I die, and then I must see whether it all ends or something actually exists more beyond our humanism.

          And as far as sin and damnation being connected to self-hatred, I actually see it quite the opposite. First of all, no human can damn another human, as we simply don’t possess this kind of divine authority. And as far as sin, as I mentioned to Truth in Psychiatry, nothing could be more freeing and liberating than knowing that I sin constantly, and am still loved. Sin should not be blamed for self-hatred – the person him or herself must own that. Otherwise, any critique that we ever receive in being told that we have done wrong (whether from parents, teachers, pastors, etc…) would just be one more notch in our image of self-hatred.

          As GK Chesterton once replied famously when asked what is most wrong with the world today, “Me. Thank You.”, I too will say that what is most wrong with the world today is me, myself, and I. Slowly, I hope I am improving, but no doubt my utter sinfulness, my undying imperfections, leave me with great hope that better is always to come.

          Thanks for your passion in taking care of those who struggle in this world.

          jim

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        • What very few Roman Catholics realize is that in the early Church there was a ritual for two men to be married together. Notice that you’ve never heard a peep about this but if you look at the primary sources from history you will find a ritual lodged right smack dab in the middle of the early books that held all the rituals a ritual for marrying two men together. It was later removed and hushed up. So typical.

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    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I have also known many people who have felt harmed by religious dogma and its impact on cultures and legal systems. As a non-religious, but spiritual and kind (I try anyway) person, I have felt unfairly judged by people who claim that they are following God’s laws when I am just operating on the human level. I find it very difficult to have a rational discussion that keeps us all on the same playing field. This is why I feel we need to keep a separation between religion and a secular state (Church and State). I know that we are all sincere people here, but we are speaking from different paradigms. I feel as spiritual as the next person but I do not claim to know what God would believe, because I do not see things in this way…my hope is that we create a safe space to disagree, but laws that protect everyone’s civil rights and equality…and that brings us back to MIA and our shared quest for human rights and dignity for all..

      Wishing us a peaceful meeting place,
      Thanks again for the discussion.

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  7. Me-focused culture or, more broadly, modern culture? The theory that explains the “causal relationship between psychological difficulties and self-centered endeavors” is proposed in Liah Greenfeld’s Mind, Modernity, Madness: the Impact of Culture on Human Experience. From the description of the book: Citizens of the twenty-first century enjoy unprecedented freedom to become the authors of their personal destinies. Empowering as this is, it also places them under enormous psychic strain. They must constantly appraise their identities, manage their desires, and calibrate their place within society. For vulnerable individuals, this pressure is too much. Training her analytic eye on extensive case histories in manic depression and schizophrenia, Greenfeld contends that these illnesses are dysfunctions of selfhood caused by society’s overburdening demands for self-realization. In her rigorous diagnosis, madness is a culturally constituted malady.

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