It’s been a little over one year since the Survey on Emotional Distress and Mental Health Diagnosis was launched online.
The survey was designed by the East Side Institute, an organization with a long-standing opposition to the individualized model of human development and the medicalized understanding of emotionality.
Very few public opinion polls on mental health issues have been conducted, and those that do exist are “forced choice” and presuppose an illness model. We at the East Side Institute wanted people to get the opportunity to reflect on and socialize their thoughts about the medical-mental illness-diagnostic model and its impact on their lives. And that is what they did! We have results from over 1000 surveys — mostly from across the US, but 33 other countries are also represented — and they’re quite revealing. Despite being bombarded with medical-mental illness-diagnostic propaganda, people are skeptical of the model. Their concerns ranged from pragmatic to ethical, from philosophical to political.
I recently completed a draft paper summarizing and discussing the survey results for a special issue of a journal dedicated to the growing movement to develop alternatives to the current diagnostic system in psychiatry and clinical psychology. Here’s a sneak preview of what a thousand people told us. (Lesson: if you ask people to tell you what they think — without telling them how they should think — they’ll tell you!).
- Despite the fact that emotional distress is presented as diagnosable illness by nearly every institution and professional people have contact with, most of them are not buying it. At best, diagnosis is a necessary evil, required under the current system in order to have the possibility of getting some help. At worst, it is stigmatizing, limiting of possibilities, isolating and potentially physically harmful.
- There was significant awareness of the corruption of mental health services by pharmaceutical companies and, more broadly, the politics of a medicalized mental health system.
- The idea that emotional distress is caused by chemical imbalance or brain disorder was soundly rejected. The popularization of neuroscience research seems bogus to some and to others a denial of mind-body holism and human relationality. Neither view dampers the interest people have in the notion that the brain plays a role in our emotionality.
- Sociality and mind-body unity were also apparent in the responses to how to help people in emotional distress. Talking to people, being listened to, and therapy were most frequent. Social activities of many kinds, as well as yoga and meditation, were also common responses.
- There was an understanding of and appreciation for the impact of diagnosis on mental health professionals. Some people were critical and some were sympathetic of the predicament professionals face—having to work with a model that distorts the people in front of you and is impossible to “get right” but, nevertheless, being influenced to see and relate to people in terms of that model.
- People encouraged more surveys and conversations like these. 48% of survey takers asked to be contacted for further conversation.
- People were appreciative of being included in the ongoing debate over diagnosis and alternatives to it. They wanted their voices heard — with 87% of survey takers having something to tell the professionals directly.