Troubled by Individual and Collective Psychosis? Maybe Compassion and Dialogue Could Help!


As we view what many of us perceive to be the wreckage of our political system in the USA, it’s interesting to reflect on what this means in terms of “hearing voices” and “extreme states.”

Last month I attended the Hearing Voices Congress in Paris. A common emphasis in many workshops was on the importance of actually listening to the voices in a friendly way, with an eye to getting to know the emotions and the wants and needs behind the voices, while also getting better at not being taken in by what the voices might literally be saying when that happens to be a lie or something really destructive.

I also heard talk about how it can be really scary to listen to voices, because of the fear that they will gain too much influence and might get us believing things that aren’t true and taking destructive actions. So it’s understandable that we often feel like it’s the wrong idea to listen, even though listening in the right way is key to healing.

It seems to me that the same dynamics apply to a divided nation. We need to learn to listen and respond in a caring way to the disturbed and disturbing voices within the population—to really engage with them, while also not believing any lies or distortions or letting destructive forces take over. Here in the US, unfortunately, we have done too little of this deeper kind of listening, while there has been way too much of the shallower listening to and believing in lies and destructive actions.

I do agree with those who have framed what we are going through as something like a “collective psychosis.”

So, since we are all “in psychosis” now, maybe it’s even more important to think about how to work through psychosis to some kind of “other side?”

Some of the most promising approaches involve some combination of love or compassion and dialogue.  I recently had the opportunity to hear Charlie Heriot-Maitland speak about how to combine compassion-focused therapy with voice dialogue methods to best reach people troubled by disturbing voices, within an individual or group therapy context.

I have been very impressed with his approach, which seems to get right to the heart of what must happen for healing.  He emphasizes first helping people center themselves in a strong and compassionate place, and then doing outreach to the most disturbing voices, in a way that overcomes polarization by exploring the concerns of extreme voices while also not letting them run the show.

If you want to learn more about this approach, you can view this recorded webinar featuring Charlie, on the science and application of the compassion for voices approach:

Charlie of course is focusing on how to help individual voice hearers, not whole nations.  But I think some of the same principles apply to national healing: we need to organize first around principles like compassion, wisdom, and strength, within ourselves and our support groups, and then reach out and dialogue with extreme and even overtly destructive voices, individuals and groups.  This dialogue can help us find and even ally with what is good in these voices, and reduce the current polarization, while we also hopefully get better at finding ways to resist letting bad ideas “run the show.”

This isn’t easy, on either the individual or collective level.  But it does seem to be heading in the right direction, and just getting started in the right direction can sometimes be a very big thing!


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.


Mad in America has made some changes to the commenting process. You no longer need to login or create an account on our site to comment. The only information needed is your name, email and comment text. Comments made with an account prior to this change will remain visible on the site.


  1. Ron

    You said: “…we need to organize first around principles like compassion, wisdom, and strength, within ourselves and our support groups, and then reach out and dialogue with extreme and even overtly destructive voices, individuals and groups. This dialogue can help us find and even ally with what is good in these voices, and [REDUCE THE CURRENT POLARIZATION] (emphasis added)…”

    I disagree with the thrust of this blog. There will be NO reduction in “polarization,” nor should there be, UNTIL the current political upheaval in this country is resolved through major systemic changes in the both the economic and political system.

    “Polarization” has historically always preceded major social change and right now should be viewed as a very GOOD thing. We should not fear this or try to make it go away, but instead seize upon the new opportunities this opens up for us to change minds and organize forces for future battles.

    In my neighborhood (in Massachusetts) I have witnessed friends who have in the past leaned toward the Republican Party who have become outraged (and even talk about feeling traumatized) by the presidential campaign and the election of Trump. Some of these people are already building alliances with people on Facebook and elsewhere to prepare for upcoming political battles. I am amazed at the kinds of advanced discussions I can now have with these people.

    It is a waste of time to focus on trying win over hardcore right wing supporters of Trump and his ilk, or to approach this recent “polarization” by promoting more “love.” Organizing against reactionary ideas and policies and fighting for a major transformation of the status quo (in the most powerful imperialist country on the planet) is a true act of “love” for ALL of humanity. This will involve both activities of persuasion AND confrontation.

    Back in the 60’s there was the strategic approach of “unite the advanced to win over the intermediate and neutralize the backward.” Will some very backward people be won over and change their thinking and behavior through major political upheaval? Yes, of course this will happen, but it should not be the focus or major concern related to our political tasks at this time.

    A significant leap has taken place in the direction of fascism in this country. We must not fear the resulting “polarization” but seize upon the opportunities it opens up for us to advance all forms of human rights struggles. I have said it before and I will repeat it again; a profit based economic system and its related political structures stands as a major impediment to future advance of all human society. “Dare to struggle, Dare to Win!”

    Respectfully, Richard

    Report comment

    • Hi Richard,

      I think you may be reading things into my brief sketch that I didn’t intend. I don’t find myself having any sharp disagreements with your comments, so we may only differ in nuance. I like you see a need for both dialogue and confrontation. And I share your desire for a society that exists for all, not for the advantages of some over others.

      Compassion and fighting have an interesting relationship. It might be compassion for a vulnerable person for example that causes one to confront and battle with someone who threatens that vulnerable person. That’s one level of compassion. But once we are successfully defending the vulnerable person, then we might notice it might also be important to have compassion for the person who threatened the vulnerable person – what was going on with that, what were the misguided wants and needs that led to the threatening behavior, how can we make peace with that person? At least, this makes sense if the threatening person is a member of our community or even our family.

      And at some point, we do have to be one nation. So it doesn’t work to just confront, we have to also pay attention to what is going on underneath, even if that isn’t the first thing we do. Just like a person with terrible voices might have to first learn to resist having those voices take over, but later learn to also have compassion for them and relate to the underlying needs that the voices represent.

      Report comment

      • Ron, the example you give here seems more like a rescuer-blame dynamic, rather than one of unconditional compassion. I understand universal compassion to mean that we have compassion for a situation, because we cannot know a dynamic between two people merely from observation. That is where we project our own truth onto a situation, which is human, and indeed, how we create our reality, via these projections, but I don’t think it’s neutral and absolute truth, as all would see it.

        It is not always clear who is the vulnerable one and who is the bully. That is often a matter of perspective, interpretation, and projection. When we are in a truly neutral space of compassion (non-judgment), then there is no distinction like this between people. The situation is seen from a very broad perspective, as an event in time, part of a story, and not as an isolated abuser-victim interaction.

        That’s my way of thinking about compassion, in any event. It is unconditional, and does not require delving into a person’s psyche in order to feel it. To me, that would be “conditional compassion” which I don’t feel is authentic compassion, but more of a mechanism of power, control, separation, and duality. We can simply be in the habit of compassionate perspective, indicated by non-judgment and a neutral and balanced perspective, without needing to analyze or understand anything deeper about a person. To me, that is what feels dehumanizing, to be subject to “explanations,” which is not the same as “being.” When we respect human authenticity in all its diversity, we do not require explanations. It is a matter of the heart and spirit, not the intellect.

        Report comment

        • I agree it is not always clear who is the “bully” and who the “victim” – but as a practical matter, we might have to try and decide, with the only other alternative being to let the bullying continue, throwing up our hands and saying we can’t do anything because we can’t hope to understand what is going on.

          One of the dilemmas in life is that we can’t fully understand human relations and other important matters, they are too complex (whether looking at them from the outside or the inside) – and yet we do have to make decisions about what to do, guided by the best understanding we have.

          To address this, we might act when we see an urgency to do so, but then humbly step back into something closer to what Alex is calling unconditional compassion. So one child appears to be beating up another – one might intervene to stop the beating, but then attempt to understand both children, and the situation, from that place of deeper compassion. Similarly, one might have to actively oppose a voice (with a person) or a political group (within a society) but then also turn toward that same voice or political group with compassion, an interest in getting to know other perspectives and unmet wants and needs, etc.

          Report comment

          • “…with the only other alternative being to let the bullying continue, throwing up our hands and saying we can’t do anything because we can’t hope to understand what is going on.”

            I think this could use some exploring. I believe there are many options here. Especially in a family/community/society/world where we’re constantly having to decide who is beating up on whom and why, I think it would benefit the greater good to understand the dynamics of the culture at large, particularly the leadership, and how they embody the norms of that particular culture, because that is whom we’re forced to trust, one way or another. What messages are they sending to others in the community, through the veil of their “authority?”

            Seems like we might be able to discover how the ground is fertile and ripe for bullying and victimization to exist so rampantly to begin with. That would be addressing this at the root, where social healing is at least possible, because it makes everyone accountable. Societies are not created by one person, they are co-creations among everyone in that particular community. Although certainly, leadership sets the example.

            Bullies and victims exist because they are allowed to, that is the norm. To change the oppressive dynamic of a culture, one has to look inward, to check their own internal dynamics. I think this is where humility, ownership, and definitely self-compassion play key roles in raising awareness. Otherwise, this incessant bully-victim power struggle is simply enabled by the culture in which it occurs, and will repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat…

            Report comment

          • “One of the dilemmas in life is that we can’t fully understand human relations and other important matters, they are too complex (whether looking at them from the outside or the inside) – and yet we do have to make decisions about what to do, guided by the best understanding we have.”

            A couple of things, here–first, I don’t see how this is a dilemma, but more of an open avenue to increase our understanding and awareness. Yes, we do the best we can with what we know at any given moment, but there is always a way to increase understanding, if we are present with the experience at hand, from an intuitive space and not a space of “programmed knowledge.” There is no formula for how to be, we just are as we are, evolving as we go, however that looks to anyone. What’s important is how it feels to us, as individuals, not how we are assessed by others.

            I think we need to be open to multiple perspectives if we are to understand anything, and apply them as situations arise. I think that’s how we learn as we go.

            Second, when we look at our relationships from “the inside,” that is our personal reality, we each have one. Who’s to say from the outside what someone doesn’t understand from their internal reality? There is no objective right or wrong way to perceive our reality, it is what it is.

            We understand our own reality, and when we are confused, we can seek support for perspective, if we choose to do so. Some people might choose to take a meditation retreat to gain clarity. But overall, I think we each are entitled to the understanding we do have, and no more to say about that.

            I say this because I think it’s fundamental in how we respect other peoples’ realities, given how core this is to these issues–how the “mental health” system is so dehumanizing and disregarding of personal realities, and how this leads to so much conflict and power struggle, leading in turn to more trauma and life catastrophe, from all the marginalizing that goes on thanks to this level of personal disrespect.

            I think that’s the bottom line here, when speaking about so-called “psychosis” or what have you, alternate realities, “extreme states,” etc. Suffering is one thing, and indeed, my work is also about helping to alleviate suffering, that’s always my priority in healing. But we perceive what we perceive. We are all entitled to this, equally, despite how anyone is defined, explained, or observed from the outside. That is our human reality, and everyone has their own which we can choose however we like to navigate. Any imposition on that is pure force, oppression, and an extreme violation of personal boundaries and human rights.

            Report comment

          • I think the idea that “there is no right and wrong way to perceive reality” can be sorely tested when people start taking actions based on really different views of reality. If someone decides for example that in their reality I am a demon who needs to be killed, I may have some complaints. If a bunch of people decide that that what I believe to be the greatest threat to humanity is really no threat at all, and so they take power and organize action that I believe will vastly accelerate that threat to humanity, I may see a problem with that as well.

            So I think there really are dilemmas that occur. Certainly it makes sense for professionals to be less sure of themselves than they are in the standard mental health system, and to open a space for multiple perspectives where possible. In Open Dialogue, they try to create a space where big decisions can be put off, while different ideas about what is objective and what should be done can be discussed. I’m all in favor of that, but I’m not in favor of thinking that different views of reality don’t have consequences – it seems to me instead that at times differences in views can lead to very dire consequences, which is why it is important to create a space where other views can be heard and things can be sorted out in a wise way.

            Report comment

          • I’m not saying they don’t have consequences, but people are people, and there’s no way to control the reality of others. Such is life–not linear, but multi-dimensional. “Right” and “wrong” are products of a limited and judgmental society, which is what we have now, which is why we are so violently polarized. Everyone can say that equally about that with which they do not agree, it is never-ending.

            Our realities are the products of the sum total of our responses to our life experience at that moment. That changes as we go along because life continues to teach us until we die. Our realities are constantly being challenged, one way or another, and how we RESPOND to that is what creates our reality and life experience from that moment forward. This is subject to change, depending on our willingness to shift our perspective and responses. We have choices here, with which to experiment, and see what works and what does not. That is the game of life, and how we refine our awareness as we go along, growing into the life wisdom we acquire.

            In the end, we’re all responsible for ourselves, and for what we create around us. We’re the creators of our reality, so if there is something we don’t like (like being hurt or attacked or stigmatized or marginalized), we, ourselves have the power to change that, within our own reality.

            When we put our well-being, clarity, sense of self, and emotional freedom in the hands of another, then we render ourselves powerless, which leads to chronic utter frustration (and depression) because that is exactly trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. And it will never, ever work, not in the long run, at least.

            Personally, I think this is the endless struggle in the mental health arena. People are not at all likely to conform to what OTHERS think is reality, because it is not natural for them–the reality of one is not the reality of another, no way it can be. 7 billion people = 7 billion perspectives = 7 billion personal realities. That is true and authentic diversity. Sharing the planet has been problematic, everyone wants only like-minded people in the entire world. Stands to reason that that ain’t gonna happen, which is a good thing because then we’d be the dullest and most boring, un-creative planet ever. That would truly be the end of our evolution, and more than likely, our existence.

            We learn, grown, and evolve by facing squarely the resistance coming at us, because it challenges our perspective. When we shift perspective, we change our reality, in the moment. When we own our power to create our reality, then we are completely free, because we do not rely on what others think, say, do, or believe to guide us, but rather, our own sense of self does that job best of all.

            So, to me, this is always about knowing ourselves humbly and authentically, who we are as light and shadow, as a felt sense knowing–not by analysis, which disregards personal subjective reality and is largely merely projection from the outside, mostly from an extremely dualistic perspective. This is where delusions like blatant stigma take over, and to me, that is what is dangerous to people individually and to society at large. We already have all the evidence we need of this, because it is how the world is currently operating, and it is not good at this time, not at all. At least most people I know are not at all happy with they way the world is operating now. So let’s shift perspective and see what happens. Change the reality. That is how we can take control of what we experience.

            We are what we feel. Our feelings and emotions represent our spirit. Sometimes our spirits are wounded, and our emotions reflect this, as do the actions inspired by them. When we feel good about ourselves, this, too, is reflected in our actions, as well as in the life around us, our personal reality.

            We choose our preference–do we want to project our hurt and wounding outwardly? Or our sense of self-compassion, self-respect, and self-responsibility? What we project outwardly from within us to send out into the collective is a choice we make every time we speak what is in our hearts, or take action. Is it through fear and resentment? Or inspiration toward collective well-being? That is a decision we make from moment to moment, based on our subjective reality.

            Great dialogue, very thought-provoking and highly relevant, I feel. Thank you, Ron!

            Report comment

        • Likewise then, curiosity helps to engage.

          You can be curious from a neutral place, as well as non-judging.

          Curiosity is non-judgemental, and opens up the possibility of exploration.

          This discussion between Alex and Ron is one of the clearest communications of “mental and emotional diversity” and what it means for individuals and society that I have read here at MIA.

          Great writing!

          Report comment

    • I am not “in psychosis.” And I believe that such language mystifies and confuses the issues.

      Nor is this a Republican-Democratic thing; Democrats are more dangerous in my view because they do and get away with the same shit Republicans do, but liberals won’t confront them. I think the fact that Trump is not as adept at obfuscation makes him easier to fight, as the sides will be drawn very clearly, and when he steps over the line we need to take on his shit while there is still some disarray in the Republican ranks. But equally important and urgent is for Democrats to study the Machiavellian and corrupt ways by which the nomination was stolen from Sanders, and make sure another such Clintonian figure is never nominated again. But already the Democrats are going back to business-as-usual.

      I think the analogy of “disturbing voices” is faulty, and, if it analogizes the “disturbing” voices in society to those of Trump voters, somewhat condescending as well. It’s hard to know if this is what is meant.

      Some of these people are already building alliances with people on Facebook

      Facebook, sigh. Didn’t someone just say something recently about using the master’s tools?

      Report comment

  2. “So, since we are all ‘in psychosis’ now, maybe it’s even more important to think about how to work through psychosis to some kind of ‘other side?'”

    Brilliant, Ron. I like your multi-dimensional thinking, here. Seems to me this is an opportunity to, once and for all, get what this means, as per everyone’s lived experience, in the moment and self-responsibly.

    Report comment

  3. Interesting title. To my way thinking, “collective psychosis” has a long history. Religious, political, and secular fanaticism have thrived throughout the ages. “Individual psychosis” however only became a problem with the advance of institutional psychiatry (i.e. forced mental health treatment), and the witch hunts that accompany it. If the problem is intolerance, perhaps the best solution would be to “treat” the former by ceasing to “treat” the latter. Were one to equate “sanity” with “wisdom”, it certainly, given greed and ignorance, has never represented any kind of behavioral “norm”.

    Report comment

    • Hi Frank, I would tend to agree, most of history is full of examples of groups of humans acting in a way that is far from “sane” or especially far from “wise” – but lots of us are fearing we will soon see new lows in this country that go far below what we’ve seen in our lifetimes.

      As for what is wise, trying to describe it is itself tricky. In some ways for example tolerance seems to be a virtue, but in some cases it isn’t, as in tolerating lies and fraud, tolerating rape and child abuse, tolerating human rights violations in the mental health system, etc. So wisdom is often seen as closely related to “discernment” or knowing where to draw the line in regards to tolerance…..

      Report comment

      • Tolerating intolerance? I don’t know, Ron.

        I think our civil rights are on their way to being eroded, and that I think disturbing.

        This law and order thing has created a big problem for us. We’ve now got the largest prison population in the entire world. When it comes to industry, just as in the case of so-called “mental illness”, that’s something that I think we could see a whole lot less of.

        The prison industry and the “mental illness” industry may generate a lot of revenue, all the same, I think there are better things we could be producing.

        Report comment

          • Mostly. People speak of a “prison industrial complex” and a “pharmaceutical industrial complex”. Those “pharmaceuticals” are in prison, too, and you also hear about people being imprisoned in penitentiaries because the “mental health” system isn’t seen as doing it’s job. Where these two institutions merge you have fewer human rights, and, therefore, more human rights violations than anywhere else. Privatization, too. Both prisons and mental health facilities are increasingly being privatized. This privatization means that somebody is profiting on peoples’, many peoples’, misfortunes. One sure way to increase misfortune, as is being done here, is to make it profitable. Government is so corrupt, at the present time, that doing something about the problem means doing something about bad government at the same time. Unfortunately, it appears we are headed in the other direction.

            Report comment

          • OK. (My preferred term is prison/psychiatric industrial complex, for various reasons.)

            Governments (or administrations) come and go, the basic struggles remain the same. Our strategy should transcend whatever particular figurehead is in power; however our tactics need to be adaptable to the immediate situation.

            Report comment

          • Any beast with two heads is likely to have two separate identities.

            I think we have to fight both, law and order thinking expanding the prison industrial complex, and mental health thinking expanding the pharmaceutical industrial complex. As well as recognize the connection between the two, that is, the criminal justice system and the mental health system. Perhaps, given corrupt government, we’re actually dealing with a three headed beast here.

            I know we can abolish forced mental health treatment. I’m not so positive when it comes to abolishing prison. I do think the two are closely related, and that just as you’ve got cops in the criminal justice system, you’ve got cops in the mental health system. Cops busting people for… What do they call it? Oh, yeah! “Mental disorder”.

            Report comment

          • I was being a little too obtuse, OldHead. The two headed beast metaphor threw me. I want to say I agree with you instead because I do.

            Mental hospitals are prisons. The doors are locked and people are not free to come and go as they please. That’s a prison. That’s not a hospital. The outpatient system grew out of the inpatient system, and so, first and foremost, to begin with, you had a prison.

            Prison psychiatric pharmaceutical complex actually works pretty well. Prisons are claiming all these people within their walls are “mentally ill”, on the one hand, and that they’ve violated the written law on the other. The only real difference is that one kind of imprisonment is effected uncivilly through civil law, and the other is done through criminal law. I’d say we’ve got the same system here, it’s just that, in one case it’s written law, and in the other it’s breaking rules, or unwritten law, that matters.

            Report comment

          • “Governments (or administrations) come and go, the basic struggles remain the same. Our strategy should transcend whatever particular figurehead is in power; however our tactics need to be adaptable to the immediate situation.”

            Sure, common sense applies, however if this is another excuse for temerity, I can’t go for it. Almost any tactic is better than zazen ‘doing nothing’ in my book. Perhaps you use another. If so, contemplate your naval on your own time. I’ve got more important matters to attend to.

            Report comment

          • Regarding the two headed monster of the prison system and the mainstream mental health system, I would note that both are rooted in a desire to control whatever is disturbing. So when control is overemphasized, then such systems become very oppressive.

            With mental health it’s a little more complex because many people are seeking help from it not to get control of others who are disturbing them but to get help to control stuff about themselves which seems out of control. So some people come in seeking drugs or even asking to be hospitalized.

            Regarding the value of contemplation: when issues are complex, there is some danger in just jumping in with action that isn’t thought out – such action can often inadvertently feel the problem itself. So I believe there is a place for finding a spot of calm or even doing nothing for a bit, which then allows us to act from a place of clarity and thoughtfulness. But it is also important to act swiftly enough, and so the best balance of contemplation versus rushing to action varies by situation.

            Report comment

          • With mental health it’s a little more complex because many people are seeking help from it not to get control of others who are disturbing them but to get help to control stuff about themselves which seems out of control. So some people come in seeking drugs or even asking to be hospitalized.

            That’s how people have been conditioned. Both systems are tools of repression, but psychiatry specializes in self-repression (people blaming themselves for their misery), the prison system in overt repression. Of course there’s overlap both ways.

            Report comment

          • If “mental illness” is merely a figure of speech, so is “mental health”. I think the system is more of a “help” to the status quo and the state than it is to anybody else, except perhaps people wanting to get troubling family members out of the way. I’ve always felt that if people were caught on the ‘failure’ tracks, it must be time for some of them to change trains. People in the mental health system in general, at least the people victimized by it, are on the ‘failure’ track.

            Report comment

  4. Hi Ron,

    This is a very interesting article.

    I think the collective psychosis probably drives everyone mad, but a lot of people are able to hide their terror. This might be why so many people consume anti depressants – because “depression” might be an acceptable way to feel unhappy.

    I’ve tried to change myself and that’s worked to a certain extent – but so far I’ve always been able to provide for my basic material requirements. From the way people talk this isn’t necessarily guaranteed in the Future.

    Report comment

  5. HI Ron,

    Thanks so much for including the video on the application of the compassion for voices approach. The 5 minute video of compassion for voices is something we have watched a lot, and this lecture from Dr. Charile Heriot -Maitland was very helpful to me as a support person. I like how he talked about developing one’s ‘soothing system’ and how important it is -it may me feel so hopeful about how the environment we are trying to maintain in our home may be allowing our loved one to eventually work through things. I liked his humbleness, and how much he believes in the brain’s ability to heal itself. There was even some very simple practical suggestions (a breathing app which has a visual to help someone slow down their breathing) that we thought might be useful to show our loved one.

    I wonder if there is any way that Dr. Heriot-Maitland and Robert Whitaker could add this (the 5 minute video and the lecture) to the ‘education’section of MIA so more people would realize it was out there?

    Report comment

  6. It strikes me the election is more of an example of a collective delusion, than a collective psychosis. Everyone on mainstream TV news coverage was absolutely positive that Donald Trump would never win. I’m not a big TV watcher, instead I prefer reading and researching on my own. And I will say that on the morning of the election I found it interesting that the mainstream media was all calling for Hillary to win, but many on the alternative news sites (and other ‘intellectuals,’ especially those who discuss economic issues) were predicting a Trump victory. I was curious who would end up being the more accurate source of information, turned out not to be the mainstream media.

    Report comment

  7. Hi Ron – I agree that listening with compassion is one of the keys to helping someone. And I agree that we are all in this together – not just the USA but the entire human species.

    I think of the words, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

    I also want to share a bit of my own experience. I have helped hundreds of very depressed and often self-harming and suicidal teenagers over the past 15+ years. And I have been very depressed on and off, and once close to suicide, myself. My depression is directly and stongly correlated with the amout of emotional support I am getting and the amount of freedom I have to leave emotionally toxic environments.

    I can attest to the importance of listening with empathy and showing acceptance, caring and understanding.

    I have seen and felt how much this helps. I have limited experience with those who hear voices, but I have a lot of experience with very depressed young people.

    There is btw, a very clear and very direct link between emotional abuse and teen depression, according to my experience. I co-edited a book called “Letters from the Unloved” which helps show how emotional abuse leads to depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts/feelings. Anyone can easily google that title and find the free pdf copy.

    So far almost no one in the mainstream has taking the book’s powerful message seriously. I believe it is simply too confronting and too challenging to the status quo in terms of how teenagers are seen by most of society.

    In anycase, thank you for your article and thanks for reading this comment.

    Report comment

    • Thanks Steve, for your comment! I agree with you that the issue you are talking about is very important. Not every depressed teenager has been emotionally abused by caretakers, but there is some kind of story to their distress, and we certainly need to be curious about that rather than simply proclaiming they have a “depressive illness” or “biochemical imbalance!”

      Report comment

      • Thanks for your fast reply, Ron. And thanks for your agreement that this is important.

        Now I would like to provoke you just a bit in a friendly way to continue our dialogue. 🙂

        My question is, could you help me understand how you can be sure, if indeed you do feel sure, that not every depressed teenager has been emotionally abused?

        I won’t say that every depressed teen has been emotionally abused. I haven’t talked to all of them! But I can honestly say that among those hundereds that I have talked to, every one has been both emotionally abused and emotionally neglected.

        I acknowledge that I just skipped the “seek first to understand, then to be understood” 🙂 I will trust there is a high enough mutual level of respect already established so I don’t need to show a specific type of understanding.

        Well, on second thought, I will say that I do feel understanding of what you said. I can understand that it could be hard to believe that *every* depressed teen has been emotionally abused. And even if we saw 10,000 in a row who had been emotionally abused, we could not say with certainty that they all the others had been. On the other hand, unless we have accurate data on all depressed teens, it seems we also can not say that not every one has been.

        How does this sound to you?

        I am worried that if people read the statement “not all depressed teens have been emotionally abused” it will minimize, at least a bit, the impact of the data that I have observed.

        I am curious what percentage you might guess have been emotionally abused, based on whatever knowledge and beliefs you have as of today.

        My mission is to do nothing less than help to change beliefs, to be honest. I want to change them in the direction of the truth, at least as far as I have experienced it.

        This probably sounds very bold, and perhaps arrogant. I invite feedback about this, btw. Yet, I prefer to be very honest, since this is a very serious topic of life and death, as well as a subject which says much about society and its major institutions as a whole.

        My argument is that not only the parents and caretakers, but also society in general, including teachers, athletic coaches, police, judges, school administrators and psychologists are not meeting the emotional needs of children and teens, and this directly leads to depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts/feelings in an extremely high percentage of the cases. So, to me, the issue of what percentage of teens have been emotionally abused and or neglected is paramount.

        My estimate would be easily over 90 percent since I have honestly never seen a case yet where there was no abuse or neglect, and I have never come across a convincing argument for what else causes depression and suicidal thoughts/feelings.

        I’d like to refer people by the way to Justin Karter’s MIA article about abuse and depression.

        In it he says “psychological abuse, such as ‘verbal and nonverbal acts by a close other in a position of power,’ was more strongly associated with depression than any of the other forms of maltreatment.”

        Here is that article:

        He also discusses the difference between abuse and neglect.

        Again, thank you for reading and replying and thank you to everyone at MIA for creating this space to express myself and share my work.

        Report comment

        • I can simply say I have talked to young people who were depressed who didn’t seem to have a distinct pattern of emotional abuse by caretakers. That doesn’t mean of course that the caretakers were perfect, just that they seemed average, both in my estimation and in that of the young people themselves. Of course, young people can have emotional challenges created by many other kinds of misfortune, bullying at school, and all sorts of other mistreatment, as well as the fact that more sensitive young people are more deeply affected by the emotional sicknesses and abuses perpetrated by our society as a whole.

          I haven’t done any studies myself about the overall percentages who have had what kind of experiences, so I won’t try to estimate what percentage has had or not had emotional abuse by their primary caretakers. I just know I wouldn’t support the idea that it is 100%. I think people’s lives are more possibly complex than that, and we should be interested in getting people’s actual story rather than making fixed assumptions that may not be true.

          Report comment

  8. Just a note to say I tried to edit my typos but the time expired while I was editing my comment! I felt pressured to edit quickly and this actually caused me to make mistakes while editing, thus taking longer, so if this is a setting that can be changed I strongly recommend it.


    Report comment

    • Hi Stevehein — thanks for the feedback. It’s a balance between giving people enough time to make quick edits for spelling, but not allowing people to edit their comment hours or days later since that can sometimes lead to confusion for people who have already responded to the person’s post. I just went in and increased the time limit, though, since I agree it was too short, especially for editing longer comments. Hope that helps!

      Report comment

  9. I think the problem is in having a dialogue like the one being called for, people are enabling abusers. They are acting like the problem is within themselves. It is a “Recovery” oriented approach.

    So rather than organizing and acting to obtain justice, people are seceding, talking a cop-out approach. It is based on the standard lie, that you can restore your social and civil standing without having to engage in political and legal action. So instead, people collaborate with abusers, and with an entirely parasitic industry, Psychotherapy.


    Move from talk to action! Please Join:

    Report comment


    Here’s the text:

    Here’s Murphy’s self-congratulations:

    ““This is a landmark moment. The federal government’s course in addressing mental health and illness in America is being fundamentally changed. Congress has finally come together in a bipartisan effort to bring serious mental illness out of the shadows. Now federal agencies will be moving from feel-good programs for behavioral wellness to ones that emphasize evidence-based care for those at highest risk and those with symptoms of serious mental illness. We’ve achieved long-sought reforms by creating an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use to elevate, integrate and coordinate programs; investing in services for the most difficult to treat cases; expanding the mental health workforce, and so much more.“It couldn’t be more fitting that we’ve reached this bipartisan agreement between the House and Senate at the close of Thanksgiving week.”


    Report comment