Suicide in a Culture of Mandated Happiness – Who’s to Blame?


Celebrity suicides have a way of encouraging us to regurgitate tired, inaccurate narratives about mental illness, depression and what to do about it. The suicide rate, as of 2016, has surged to the highest it’s been in nearly 30 years, with an increase in every age group except the elderly. One person every 13 minutes dies by suicide in the United States; Americans are far more likely to kill themselves than each other. It’s estimated that every suicide emotionally wounds ten other people and costs about $1 million in medical expenses and lost wages. This amounts to a public health crisis, which we have mobilized to tackle before when faced with the AIDS epidemic and the scourge of breast cancer. We can — and must — do the same for the suicide crisis.

As Noel Hunter said, “When 45,000 people a year would rather die than live in this world any longer, it might behoove us all to consider what is happening in the world to cause this.” What is happening in the world. One of the main stories we repeat to ourselves is that mental illness causes suicide. We perpetuate this idea that people who take their own lives are sick, perhaps as an unconscious way of attempting to avoid feelings of guilt or regret about what we could have done or who we could have been for the people we’re losing to this public health crisis. It’s almost like neuroscience hasn’t shown us how harmful isolation is for human beings. We then turn right around and express shock that Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, Robin Williams, etc., were feeling so awful — “they were always so happy” say the people “closest” to them.

Of course they were “always happy.” We live in a culture of mandated positivity and compulsory happiness, which somehow remains untouched by the current political, social, ecological and economic realities of the world. It doesn’t seem to matter that unflinching optimism in the face of the dire perils of humanity is delusional denialism. It doesn’t seem to matter that we live in a world where injustice is systematically rewarded and the greed of a few is lethal for many; a world in which where you were born determines more about the rest of your life than any amount of perseverance or hard work (I can anticipate the haters now, so I’ll just note that, if meritocracy were real — that is, if hard work was recognized and compensated proportionally — the wealthiest people in the world would be women in sub-Saharan Africa who haul water for their families eight hours a day). Not to mention the recent geopolitical reminder that the only planet known to support life could be obliterated at any moment because of the unchecked egos of a few too-powerful men even as its beauty and built-in life-promoting powers are being methodically and thoroughly dismantled as a matter of “civilization’s” course. No, if you’re distressed, it must either be your bad attitude (which is a choice) or your broken brain (which is not a choice); god forbid we look anywhere outside the self.

The recent glut of op-eds triggered by the high-profile suicides this month — all advising friends and family of loved ones struggling with depression to do things like “encourage them to get help,” “don’t try to fix it,” “be there for them,” etc., with the number to the National Suicide Hotline at the bottom — are, thus, an astounding example of collective cognitive dissonance. How is it that our media will run the same advice — different remixes of “be there for each other” and “encourage people to get help” — every time a famous person kills themselves, while simultaneously, in the name of “self-care,” perpetuating garbage guidance like “cut toxic people out of your life” or “distance yourself from negative people”? More importantly, how is this viable advice? How is it that we allow and even follow this counsel — proudly, without question? What gives anyone the right to label another human being toxic? How is it not utterly selfish to remove negative people from your life? People experiencing despair, hopelessness and unabating distress don’t want to add (even more) isolation to their pain, so they put on a smiley, happy mask, and strive for “strength of character” and whatever else our culture has labeled constant upbeatness, until they can’t take it anymore.

Whether or not calling that hotline would work for you (I’ve found those who answer the phone to be extremely condescending and unable to relate empathetically, myself), if you really care about people in so much pain that they’d rather die than live through one more day, you actually should be trying to fix it. Start with being the person your friend would call rather than directing them to a total stranger, an expert or someone they would have to pay to listen to them. Stop saying “you’re not alone” and start saying “I’m here with you.”

But it goes beyond that. This is an increasingly terrifying and painful world for an increasing number of people — in large part because of metastatic capitalism as I’ve discussed in the past. If psychotherapy is less effective for poor people, maybe poverty and runaway inequality, which are not incidental but direct results of the unbridled capitalism we have all accepted as part of “the way things are,” are the problems rather than the individual seeking therapy. Maybe it’s legitimately painful and despair-inducing to live poor in a world where the few self-appointed elites flaunt their wealth and power and show no concern for life that cannot enrich their empires. If you care about depression, organize an eviction blockade; stand up to the corporate giants willing to pollute our air, water, soil and food; learn who has political power in your community and relentlessly petition, picket, protest them until they practice justice.

And stop participating in spreading harmful, shaming conceptions of suicide. There are many; some of the ones that most weaken friends’ and loved ones’ ability to respond compassionately and effectively to someone experiencing suicidal thoughts (and that keep us as a society from responding to this crisis the way we’ve responded to cancer or AIDS) are that suicide is weak, selfish or cowardly.

People who end their own lives are dismissed as weak as if being weak is a bad thing. The combination of capitalism, individualism and the ruthlessly propagated conception of human beings as competitive by nature have demonized weakness and made it into a bogeyman rather than a fact about the human condition that, if embraced, could lead to healing relationships and more resilient communities, two bulwarks against suicide. Isolation — that is, the felt sense that you are alone and without meaningful connections or people who care about you — kills. Directing people toward professionals rather than learning how to have real, lasting friendships deepens isolation.

I would argue from my experience working at a crisis center that people who live with such dark thoughts are some of the strongest people I have ever met, but, even if suicide were weak, we need to ask what’s wrong with being weak. Who is telling us that being weak is categorically a failure or deserves criticism? A pervasive system that requires lifelong sacrifices of time, energy and resources of the masses in order to enrich an arbitrary few and would thus view emotions, preferences and struggles as optional, inconvenient and wasteful — that’s who.

But human beings are vulnerable creatures that depend on so many things outside themselves to survive, let alone flourish. We are born utterly helpless; it takes decades to get to adulthood, though we are never fully able to make it on our own even then; we grow old, and maybe helpless again; we die. Weakness is inherent in the human condition and owning that, not disparaging it or trying to avoid it, is where true power is.

The claim that suicide is selfish is the height of hypocrisy in a society that advises people that they can’t live for others, they “should only live for themselves,” and demands its members provide for all of their needs, including the basic human need for connection, alone. As I just discussed, weakness is a central feature of the human condition, which is why we need each other. We are each saddled with our own unique limits that we cannot overcome by ourselves. Our society’s demand that every person take care of every need they have on their own, reinforced by its selective worship of experts (we feel free to question climate scientists while simultaneously passing off our distraught friends to “professionals”), runs against the grain of human nature. But, in a culture that has no safe outlet for the pain our social world inflicts on us, that shames people for expressing loneliness, the shock that so often accompanies suicide loss is the confusing part for me, not the skyrocketing rates of suicide in this country.

Furthermore, why is it that we only care about people’s “failure to consider others beside themselves” when they’ve taken their own lives while it’s otherwise acceptable — aggressively promoted, even — to “look out for number one” at all costs? We saturate our social environment with incentives for self-focus. We reinforce the idea that, to win, you must put yourself first, keep relationships that benefit you and throw away those that don’t. We are told in so many different ways that, as Anthony Robbins said, “success is doing what you want when you want with whoever you want,” and we can find no countervailing force that would question that and call it for what it is: sociopathy. Virtues like kindness, empathy and integrity are either tokenized for a few likes on Facebook, framed as unattainable for all but a few ‘saints’ like Mother Teresa or viewed with suspicion: we question the motives of sincere, generous people and wonder what they must want from us. We press people from the earliest years of their lives to care only about themselves, to use whatever means necessary, including other people, to get what they want out of life, and then, to the people we’ve alienated and isolated to the point of life-ending despair because of their despair (which we’ve been instructed to construe as “negative” or “toxic”) we heap accusations of not caring about others. If suicide were selfish, would it be any wonder why?

If suicide were cowardly, why isn’t the response to ask what the fear is? Given both the current state of the world and the overall precariousness of life in general, is fear actually an inappropriate response? To accuse someone of being afraid as if it’s a character flaw is to seriously misunderstand the function of human emotions. In a culture that distorts emotions as much as ours does, it’s not surprising that so many people would take fear to mean weakness, but we’ve already talked about what weakness really is. Fear, then, is actually the recognition of those limits and how little each of us can really control in life. Fear is an appropriate response to the current state of the world. Fear is a sign that you’re paying attention and you have a healthy view of how small your personal power is relative to how large and looming the problems we aren’t even facing are. Climate change, artificial intelligence, permanent totalitarianism — these are legitimately mortifying threats; claiming otherwise is worse than denialism. It’s emotional abuse.

Our culture is exceedingly emotionally abusive. That it would find it acceptable to dismiss the pain driving suicidal ideation as weak, selfish or cowardly and continue to refuse to engage in self-reflection is but one piece of evidence of that. To think of suicide as weak, selfish or cowardly is to blame the person for being unable to continue to live in an environment that is more and more unsuitable for life. That’s gaslighting. Why are we more comfortable perpetuating a culture that seems to cheer on the extinguishing of more and more of its members as it denies any responsibility for their deaths than we are working toward creating something human beings can actually thrive in? What have we become?


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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  1. Yep. Shaming people for being sad does not lead them to happiness.

    And psychiatry and its minions on the hotlines are there SO WE CAN NOT BE THERE for each other.

    “Quit bugging me with your crap. Call the suicide hotline. Call someone who cares.”

    Once a loved one has a “diagnosis” like “bipolar” or “schizophrenia” you have a great excuse to ditch that toxic person out of your life.

    “Had to leave my wife. She was an evil, crazy bipolar!” Go to any number of forums and you’ll find this. It’s the EVIL bipolar’s fault. I’m normal, therefore I was a perfect saint who did no wrong in our relationship. Uh huh. 😛

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  2. Wow, amazing article. You read my mind but said it so much more eloquently. After reading all the news articles on suicides, mental health and selfish behavior, if I read the another article with the attachment of the “If you feel suicidal” and the National Suicide Help Line number, I’m going to hurl.

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  3. In my experience recently it doesn’t matter whom one reaches out to – a family member who pretends the phone line is staticky and hangs up as soon as anything distressing is mentioned, the friend who only responds to good news, the fellow psychiatric survivor who says “it sounds like you need someone to talk to” with the implicit (just not me), or the acquaintance who responds to your distress with “when will you just be happy?” This isolation is what drives suicide. You don’t have to be actively suicidal or even depressed to contemplate what the point is in continuing a life that is completely meaningless and bereft of anything approaching personal significance and belonging.

    I think the most shocking statement I hear when someone successfully takes their life is “if only they had reached out for help”. I don’t think my experience is particularly unique and so I’ve come to believe that for the majority of those who suicide, they did reach out and the rejection was so profound that they were actually driven to suicide by the collective responses to their pain.

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  4. I agree with a lot of what you say, and I do feel that the perceived need to be happy all the time contributed enormously to my depression.

    However, there are toxic people. Of course. Anyone who abuses another person (be it physically or emotionally) is toxic, at least to the person being abused, and to suggest otherwise is dangerous, in some cases even life threatening.

    But, yeah, the “suicide is selfish/cowardly” thing strikes me as the “survivor” making it all about him or her. I don’t get it. I guess whoever says that perceives it differently, though.

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    • I just want to add that when saying “emotional abuse” I am referring especially to narcissistic abuse, which is something that I don’t think is well understood by anyone who hasn’t gone through it. This abuse was a big factor in my choosing to eliminate a person who was toxic to me from my life.

      I can’t say if this has been verified scientifically, but it’s believed that suicides do result from this form of abuse. Here’s an article I just found on it that describes it better than I can.

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      • Context is important and I don’t think the author is referring to abusers when she says it’s wrong to label people with negative attitudes as toxic. But even in such instances as an abusive person, we have a tendency to stick labels on people and condemn their entire being “abusive”, “crazy”, “bipolar”, “moron”, “lazy”, and it would behoove us to relearn how to see the whole person. Yes, there are people who will be nasty and abusive and overwhelmingly harmful but we can often see the rest of the human being behind those labels with a little effort. And even among those people who have committed atrocious acts, we understand the human ability to grow and learn. If we didn’t, what would be the point of prison for murderers (or those guilty of other unthinkable crimes?) If we adopt the position that humans are incapable of repentance and change, we might as well simply execute violent felons immediately upon conviction. In my own path to healing, I’ve learned to find ways of humanizing those who have hurt me. I think that’s something most of us need to make a harder effort to do.

        Your link, by the way, references Michelle Carter, whom many of us understand to have been a victim herself – of psychiatry, of the boyfriend she was accused of driving to suicide, and of an overzealous prosecutor who tried her in the court of public opinion with much vitriol (and through distorting the evidence) long before she had even had her day in court.

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  5. kindredspirit:

    Thanks for your response.

    Context is important. So is clarity.

    In the midst of abuse, I think the victim often humanizes the abuser too much, especially in narcissistic abuse where the abuser can be very covertly manipulative. I know that in my situation that was true. I know that concepts such as “Stockholm Syndrome” exist based on this idea. Perhaps after the fact with a lot of physical and emotional distance, humanizing can be beneficial.

    As for the reference to Michelle Carter, I am aware of the alternative viewpoint about her, but don’t know enough to have a firm opinion on it either way. I would hope that one wouldn’t dismiss the whole article based on that one sentence. Otherwise, I could point to hundreds, probably thousands of articles, youtubes, books,etc. that discuss narcissistic abuse without referring to her at all.

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    • Thanks for your reply however, I think we are talking past each other here.

      No one would suggest that abuse be tolerated. Or that someone actively being abused should humanize their abuser. The context of the article isn’t about abuse and that’s what I was attempting to point out. The context was the tendency for negative people to be labeled as toxic and dumped. When in fact, those negative people are usually the victims of abuse or otherwise tragic circumstances and that labeling and dumping is tantamount to abuse. And it’s done on a very wide scale.

      “Don’t be a negative Nancy.” “Look on the bright side.” “Find the silver lining.” We are conditioned from birth to suppress negative feelings and this is especially harmful when the negativity is the direct product of abuse. This was the point of my post and my comment about humanizing people was specifically about the labels we put on people. Again, not to dismiss or make excuses for people who are actively being abusive because abusiveness and a negative attitude are two very different things. I hope that clears up any confusion you may have had about where I was coming from.

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      • kindredspirit:

        Thanks for the clarification. Much appreciated.

        I still don’t think I agree with what you or the author wrote about this particular area 100%. Because I think that people do have the right to choose who they want to be around. And if someone doesn’t want to be around me because I’m not happy all the time, do I really want to be around them? But also because I’d think that people who only want to be around positive, happy people are not all that healthy, maybe less healthy even than the people expressing negativity. Probably.

        Anyway, maybe I’m just being contrary and picky and overthinking this. And maybe I’m not even presenting your or the author’s viewpoint correctly. I apologize if that is so. I do absolutely agree that suppression of negative emotions is very harmful for us as a culture and individuals.

        This conversation has reminded me of a personal experience. I was at a meditation class and I was quite upset and crying. And the “happy” meditation instructor’s immediate response was to say – “Oh maybe she’s menopausal, that makes women more emotional.” Yeah, because I am not allowed just to be sad without a biological explanation. I was not impressed.

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        • Well, no, I don’t think you’re quite presenting my viewpoint correctly for a simple reason: I completely agree with you that we should be free to choose our associates and that if people don’t want to be around me because I often have a negative attitude, I’m fine with that. I have a negative attitude because we live in an upside down world with clear winners and losers and a ridiculous amount of competition in a society that values individualism and an economic system that promotes the idea of false scarcity of resources rather than acting together for the common good. But, besides that, I honestly can’t stand being around incessantly cheerful people and I think that should be my prerogative. I don’t like spin doctors and would prefer to make space for those in deep pain and grief than to listen to someone talking about what they learned from x or y painful experience. I’m absolutely sick to death of the “inspiration porn” genre and I’m nearly always tempted to deck people who reduce my suffering by calling my survival story ‘inspirational’. (In just the last week, I saw someone use Viktor Frankl’s seminal work Man’s Search for Meaning used as a weapon to shame someone to stop talking about their suffering.) So to reiterate, I don’t think it’s about tolerating any and all behavior (short of abuse) or personalities that you find grating but more about stopping the shaming and blaming of those who dare express their suffering. And for goodness sake we’ve got to stop telling people to reach out and then turning around and shaming them when they do.

          Your meditation instructor has clearly got a chauvinist streak. What a pathetic way to dismiss you in the moment. I’m sorry that happened to you. I hope you were able to either express how inappropriate that kind of commentary is to the instructor or else find an instructor with an actual understanding of how meditation can effect survivors of abuse. In my class, we were told in the first intro session to expect that we could have overwhelming feelings come up or cry and not to be embarrassed or ashamed if that happened.

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          • Kindred:

            Thank you again. I have a wee confession – I think I do sometimes present as an incessantly cheerful person. It’s a hard habit to break. But also it’s partly because I am so reclusive and am grateful for most any human contact. Unless of course the person is being an arse, which is sometimes the case.

            My interpretation was that my instructor was playing the part of “enlightened” which to her meant only displaying “positive” emotions. And that is a common enough thing among meditation instructors, gurus and wannabes, etc. because that is what a lot of people think meditation is and are seeking from it. But I did know enough by that point not to buy into it. And there was another “student” in the class who was in the Vietnam War and suffered PTSD and who could relate at least to some extent to what I was going through. That meant a lot to me. Still working on “feeling the feelings,” though.

            Thanks for understanding.

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  6. I cried after reading your piece; it reminded me of the people that I have abandoned in the name of “self-care”,the perils of constantly wearing an emotional mask (in my case to avoid being forcibly hospitalized and/or harmed), and how greed, indifference and callousness can warp whole societies.

    Kindredspirit, your words spoke to my soul. Thank you.

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  7. This is fantastic article with some very poignant passages and brave, direct truth, I believe. Thank you for writing this. It was healing for me to read.

    “Our culture is exceedingly emotionally abusive. That it would find it acceptable to dismiss the pain driving suicidal ideation as weak, selfish or cowardly and continue to refuse to engage in self-reflection is but one piece of evidence of that. To think of suicide as weak, selfish or cowardly is to blame the person for being unable to continue to live in an environment that is more and more unsuitable for life. That’s gaslighting. Why are we more comfortable perpetuating a culture that seems to cheer on the extinguishing of more and more of its members as it denies any responsibility for their deaths than we are working toward creating something human beings can actually thrive in? What have we become?”

    This is so powerful and rings as unequivocal truth to me. Perfect questions, too. I would add, “How can we transform?”

    “…even if suicide were weak, we need to ask what’s wrong with being weak. Who is telling us that being weak is categorically a failure or deserves criticism?”

    Thank you, yes, we are Human. No one is strong all the time, that would not be human. Humility is part of being human, and sometimes it is thrust upon us, and we feel our humanness. We’re far from perfect. Is that ok?

    And especially when we are weakened by not only toxic chemicals but also by a toxic double-binding dismissive, dehumanizing, and marginalizing environment, we are particularly vulnerable because our defenses have been so systematically worn down. That’s not a fair fight, injustice and power abuse is all over this. Fighting chronic barrages of grotesquely negative projections and shaming stigma can be more than a person can handle after a while. It is life-force draining.

    Oh yeah, how on earth can we influence change here? Feels like alarms are going off. Wake up call to some new kind of humbling truth, perhaps? There’s a missing piece here.

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      • Rachel, I can’t tell if this is really your belief or if you’re being ironic. Are you saying that if someone is not abusive, then, in reality, they are not caring? And if someone is not abusive toward another, then it is because they don’t care about that person? Seems to me that’s what you are implying, although please do correct me if I’m misinterpreting something here. Your statement is very powerful, but it gives me pause.

        My first impulse is to disagree with this, because abuse comes from fear (e.g. of abandonment, and other issues) and where there is authentic unconditional love, there is no fear; they cannot co-exist as one cancels out the other–the way that when a light is turned on in a room, there is no longer darkness there, that cannot be. That’s my belief and perspective, in any event.

        Although for the sake of dialogue and the current beliefs and programs running, I’d say there’s gray area here, it’s not necessary so black & white. In our particular culture, the relationship between abuse and love/caring is complex and multi-layered. That would be an enlightening–and, perhaps, liberating–conversation to have. I imagine people have all sorts of diverse opinions and beliefs regarding this. Thanks for speaking your truth.

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        • Basically I meant (in my experience) people told me to get the Heck away from them they didn’t want a crazy around. OR they abused me verbally and emotionally. My dad took to slapping and cuffing me after my diagnosis. He never did that before. Guess he thought that was necessary for dealing with the insane.

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  8. Theology. You think Plath kill herself, because “she has got no friends”? There are people terrorized by death, it is a internal terror, had nothing to do with external reality, we are talkin about the realm of death —–, you don’t know nothing about phenomenology of the psyche, about death in the psyche. Read Suicide and the soul, you are too theological. Yoy think that people kill themselve because they are lonley. Jesus. People like this are not human ANYMORE, they are titans. Apollonian has got depression, and they think they suffer. THEY THINK, THEy SUFFER, THEY ONLY SEE DEATH FROM SAFE TERRITORY and this is enough for them to kill themselves, THEY DO NOT TOUCH IT. Titans touch it ——severe mentally ill – it is how NORMAL APOLLONIAN BEYOND DEATH TERRITORY, CALLED THEM.ARROGANT, SELFISH IDIOTS.

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    • Death is the main reality of the psyche, it is in the center. The problem to acknowledge that fact is that apollonian are psychologically beyond this realm and they use theology in medical disguise to fight the death. You won’t win with death, that’s why death needs a temple, not stupid hospitals ruled by apollonian ego, they are maggots and ruthless killers of the psyche reality/phenomenology. They are stupid, rude and psychologically blind, which means —-mentally health/strong (yeah, right when you feel good, you are strong, WHEN YOU ARE TOUCHING DEATH, YOU ARE WEAK, YEAH RIGHT, BECAUSE YOU SAY SO) bahahahahhahh,to be mentally health means —out of touch with the reality of death in psyche, mentall wellnes means to be completely antypsychological. Psyche needs the defenders, we need PHENOMENOLOGY OF PSYCHE IN PLACE OF JUDGEMENT/DSM WHICH IS EMPTY NOMINALISM. AUTHORITARIANS ARE SUBHUMANS, machines.THEY ARE USING HUMAN PSYCHE FOR THEIR OWN PURPOSES.
      Read Re-visioning psychology, only true attitude to psyche could save psychological human. Everything what does authoritarians/psychiatrists to psyche is simple terrorism and sabotage.

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  9. People psychologically out of touch with the death THINKS THEY WIN WITH it, BEACUSE THEY ARE STRONG. NO, they are just out of touch with this reality, TOO PSYCHOLOGICALLY SHALLOW. Some poeple represents the death, they symbolise the death only for purposes of the death realms. Capitalistic materialists call them insane, because they see no value in death (PSYCHOLOGICAL KIND OF BEING), but they still can make some money on it, and use psychological people as slaves, THE SAME WAY WHITE USE BLACK. The want stupid docile plebs who will work for economic hegenomy, and then Cezar can use their own power and church to destroy human psyche (and they will be thankful, they will work for this kind of slavery), because there’s no PSYCHOLOGICAL WORK/REALM – THERE IS ONLY MATERIALISTIC WORLD/ WHICH MEANS SPIRIUTUAL,THEOLOGICAL. THERE IS —-PSYCHOLOGICAL WORK, AND YOU CAN’ HUSH UP THIS REALITY WITH DISREGARD THEOLOGY AND MONEY.

    PEOPLE WHO DIED IN MENTAL HOSPITALS ARE PIONNERS, A VICTIMS OF THEOLOGY AND APOLLONIAN HEGEMONY OVER THE REST OF PSYCHE. THEY ARE BEING USED BY STATE CONSTRUCTED ONLY FOR MATERIALISTS AND THE PSYCHOLOGICALLY SHALLOW/BLIND NORMAL MASSES. ——-HADES IS BANNED/PSYCHE IS BANNED——There is difference between spirituality and the psyche, people believe in god, while in psyche realm there’s no gods to believe in, because they represent human afflictions, love, war, passion,we don’t have to believe in them, because they create the human reality. God and spiritual world represents only the claims to that psychological reality which for theology is only a sin. Theology trespass against human.

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  10. What suicide crisis? A couple of celebrats off themselves, and then comes the news that the suicide rate is at an all time high. Turn it into a “crisis”, one of those things the (sic) medical business is so good at doing these days, and the suicide rate is almost guaranteed to increase further. Suicide, a new trend? Who’d have thunk it? Alright, we don’t have over population licked yet, but we’re working on it. Every time a celebrat offs him or herself, the number of suicides goes up. All this talk has the effect of raising the suicide rate, and keeping the medical monkeys in practice. We’re doing something about the problem, keeping it, “a problem”. It’s not a problem. If you want out of this life, hey, you’re free to go.

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  11. As a person who once tried to kill himself but obviously survived I just want to say thank you for a great response to everything that we’re hearing and seeing lately. I too shudder when I hear all the platitudes being spouted ad nauseam and think to myself how most people don’t even have a clue what they’re talking about concerning suicide.

    Secondly, I never believed that I was ever “mentally ill” because I wanted to kill myself. This was a huge point of contention between myself and the psychiatrists whom I had to deal with after my unsuccessful attempts. They cited their opinion that my unwillingness to embrace my “illness” was a sign that I didn’t have insight into how “ill” I truly was. When they stated this I just smiled at them because I knew without a doubt who had no insight at all into the situation. But of course, smiling got me in trouble for other reasons. You can’t win against psychiatrists.

    As a society perhaps it would suit us better to pursue contentment rather than happiness.

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    • Nobody was ever labeled “mentally ill” for committing suicide. People are only labeled “mentally ill” for failing at suicide. You say you made “unsuccessful attempts”, and that makes yours a case in point. Failing at suicide will get you a “mental illness” diagnostic label guaranteed.

      Happiness, contentment? What is that? A three car garage? It’s certainly not a carrot on a stick, or is it? Given one mirage or another words fall short. I just always thought, when push came to shove, suffering is the norm. A three hour work week? How out of the ordinary?

      It’s not like the peon and his donkey have it easy. It’s more like, there are two types of people, peons and donkeys. If you think I’ve got that wrong, you need to lift your blinders, and take a look around you.

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    • Steven, sorry but I have a point of contention with your suggestion that we should search for contentment rather than happiness. It is a mark of privilege for anyone to be content with their own lives while holding the knowledge of what it looks like to live at the bottom. And considering how rapidly the middle has been shifting into the bottom, and how more and more of us are losing status, while fewer and fewer hold the vast majority of wealth and prosperity in the world, I cannot imagine how one would become content without at the same time having to completely ignore the vast suffering of the majority of those you’re surrounded by. ( I could probably word this better but I’m in a hurry. I hope you get my gist.)

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  12. “Nobody was ever labeled “mentally ill” for committing suicide.”

    Sorry, I have to call bullshit on this. People are labeled mentally ill posthumously as a matter of course these days. It is one of the points the author makes. It is one of the most common ways to dismiss any collective responsibility for the deaths of those who take their own lives. On a societal scale, from the government to media, to the mental ill health profession, to our families and friends and community structures, we cry boohoo about the tragedy of mental illness rather than do anything constructive to change the power imbalances that our “civilization” is built upon. Honestly, having followed your commentary for quite some time now, it seems that (most of the time, at least) you do fully grok the power structures that keep the masses in misery. And yet, you present this totally dismissive, damn near sociopathic response to those who ultimately succumb to these unrelenting pressures. Your inconsistency is utterly bewildering to me.

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    • Okay, perhaps I should revise my statement, “Nobody was ever treated posthumously for a “mental illness” diagnostic label”. Not even Lincoln Churchill. I suppose it’s only my perspective here that’s at stake, but I have a much easier time living with bogus labels than I do with the damaging treatments that go along with them. I don’t buy the labels anyway. You know, it’s bad to libel a person, but it’s worse to throw sticks and stones at that person, and thus, snuff out his or her poor existence.

      Sure, perhaps you can come up with an example of posthumous treatment but, overall, I stand by what I say.

      Power imbalances and “chemical imbalances” are two different things. Just saying.

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      • Ok, we can agree on that much. Although I have no doubt that if posthumous psychiatric “treatment” were possible, it would be attempted. And since it is the labels that lead to the “treatments”, I can live with neither, but I’m quibbling at this point.

        I have a problem with the labeling of “celebrats” as well. Though I know you hate victim language and identities, it is clearly a crushing and reductive existence to live constantly in the public eye. I can hardly think of anything worse in modern times than to become a celebrity or internet sensation. The luxuries we are instructed to envy are really the only upside to that lifestyle. And it’s no wonder celebrities so often fall victim to drink, drugs, and excess in an attempt to cope with living in a fish bowl. I would never ever wish to exist in such a way and not because I am humble or possess excess humility but because it must be truly awful. What we are taught to envy comes at a very extreme cost to individual liberty – something I know you value to an extreme. I understand your point of view but I think some empathy is in order. They live differently but they are still human with very real human needs for love, affection, empathy, community, and privacy, and I suspect they get precious little of any of that, at least not authentically.

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        • Hollywood incorporated is filled with rich people. This is part of the growing divide between the few wealthy and the great many impoverished. If you can contribute to his or her “fame”, I don’t have a problem contributing to his or her “shame”. A monopoly is a monopoly, and the entertainment industry is very much a monopoly, meanwhile, we’ve all got talent, with or without quotations marks.

          I’m not, as one might say on StarTrek, an empath. I don’t have a problem with that, at least, not until I can experience life from the seat of my own private jet. These monopolies create as big an expense with regard to their extreme cost to equality as they do to liberty, and I happen to value both virtues much, that is, equality and liberty.

          There was a song that went, “He’s not heavy, he’s my brother”, but to be honest about it, he might not be my brother, and his weight might be breaking my back. Something to think about anyway.

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      • Except that the labels create the culture that supports the drugs. If there were not the belief that psychiatrists “know something about the brain,” and that their labels represented some kind of scientific truth, the whole edifice would fall on its ugly ass. It’s people’s belief in the labels that makes all of this possible. I really believe that if pseudo-scientific labeling were eliminated, very few people would want these drugs.

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        • There used to be a great deal of skepticism among the general public about psych-labels however a number of things must have changed the situation, psychoanalysis’s demotion by the APA, bio-psychiatry’s self-promotion and PR, the arrival of NAMI (family defensiveness), as well as an escalation in violence on the part of lone shooters, in combination with the manipulations, for the sake of profiteering, of drug companies. Drug companies that are now about the number one sponsor, thanks to direct to consumer advertising, for anything appearing on US television.

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        • I’ve just come through a hypomania, in which I pushed my body too far again, and have injured both of the achilles tendons to such a degree that I am unable to walk. I was under strict orders to slow down and rest about a month ago, and I could not abide, and I kept going on through the pain, kept forgetting why I had to stop, that I was seriously injured. Now I can barely walk a few paces. We’ve had to buy in a wheelchair. I’ve had one trip out in it, and the whole time I was thinking how dreadful it must be to be permanently physically disabled, as all the dropped kerbs around here are dangerous, and unsuited to wheelchairs. On that one outing I nearly toppled over 8 times.

          During all this I’ve had terrible problems with sleep. I’ve been struggling against the belief that there is a conspiracy to have me murdered. I’ve suspected my partner has been poisoning me. I’ve struggled with basic hygiene. If I was alone I’d have forgotten to eat and drink. And now, two days ago, I suddenly felt emptied of all zest. And I am troubled again with suicidal thoughts. I’ve had the police around to do a welfare check after I made a few irate phone calls, threatening to make citizen’s arrests. I believe there are cameras in my home. And again I’m believing I am subject to some kind of secret experiment to determine the effectiveness of devastating weapons.

          I say all that because I know of many people who suffer similarly, and they choose to take psychiatric drugs. They make this choice rationally and considerately, and for them, the pain and suffering of masochistically scraping through it all, their soul on its knees, is just too much for them.

          I’m a masochist and I prefer not to take the drugs. Not taking the drugs has its upsides and its downsides. The downsides are that I have to withdraw mostly from people, I have to fundamentally limit my interactions, because it is too overwhelming.

          Psychiatrists do not know much about the brain, I agree. But neither do you. What they do know is that people suffer, and that suffering is akin to an illness. It has a devastating impact on a person’s life. And they give it a name.

          You will not rid me from this planet. I will go when it is time to go. You want to shrug my dire experiences away, the experiences of all my comrades whose lives are similarly devastated. And I believe you think this affords you some kind of intellectual or moral advantage.

          Therapists turn people like me away, typically. They turn us away because they cannot make head nor tail of what is happening to us. But something is definitely going on. It is, in all probability, a functional disorder of the brain. And your prejudices against us only add insult to injury.

          Good for you that you don’t toil this way. Probably never have, probably never will. Good for you. But who are you in all this? By what authority do you rise above our suffering and snide it away, like it’s nothing, an invention, that if psychiatry didn’t name it, it would make it less impacting.

          What kind of magician are you?

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          • There is very little evidence that mental suffering is due to a brain disease. And, in fact, quite strong evidence that it isn’t. There is strong evidence that our gut microbiome effects our mental state and that modern medicine, modern agriculture, and modern living styles have destroyed a great deal of the diversity of our guts – some scientists say permanently. Three cheers then for “civilization”!!

            Calling mental suffering a brain disease and drugging people has been shown to be very ineffective. A doctor’s sympathy does not mean he knows how to make you better. A doctor could be sympathetic to diabetes but unless he offers the diabetic person insulin or blood sugar regulating drugs, he won’t be helping the diabetic. Offering a mentally suffering person neuroleptics or anticonvulsants in the name of treating ”mental illness” is akin to offering a diabetic an antitensive or cholesterol drug. Maybe it’ll make you feel better at first because your doctor has “done something” to help. But when you die from low cholesterol or blood pressure, how will you feel then? (Don’t answer that!)

            So let’s be clear, a doctors sympathy is NOT REQUIRED. Unless that doctor can offer the patient a medication or lifestyle changes that will actually fix the problem, why do you insist on sympathy for your suffering from him?

            Furthermore, it’s been well established that the method of diagnosis in the DSM for hundreds of so called separate afflictions is essentially picking a handful of symptoms out of larger groups of symptoms. Any five out of nine will do. This is so sloppy that you can have a room full of patients all with the same “disease” and no two are alike in their suffering. This is absurd! We would have never found the causes of actual diseases if doctors had all acted this way toward the physical body.

            I understand that we live in a culture that cannot make space for those in pain and those experiencing realities differently. But attacking the people who are attempting to change that makes you no better than the oppressor. And you may scream to the hills for your right to be considered diseased, but all that has brought the mental disability community is agreement from the wider community and hence talk of bringing back institutions to lock up the crazies, and other violations of individual rights like the Murphy Bill and state and federal databases of the crazy. How has that helped anyone in distress?

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          • Hi, Rasselas.redux,

            It appears I have not communicated clearly enough. I had no intention of minimizing your suffering or that of those who have similar experiences. I have worked for years with people who have difficulties that get labeled as “mental illnesses” as both a therapist and an advocate, and I have a very good idea of the kind of pain and confusion such conditions can bring about. I am also not opposed to using drugs for those who find them helpful, and never have been. Nor am I arguing against individuals such as yourself embracing a particular label or identity that you might find helpful, nor am I proposing that I have some magical understanding of “what is wrong” with people who get these labels or what you or anyone else should do about it.

            What I object to, and I make no apologies for it, is a profession getting together and deciding to create these arbitrary names and categories that they give to people based solely on how they act or feel, and then act as if these names are some kind of scientific reality that they can apply with confidence to anybody that comes through the door. I object even more strenuously to the “profession” blaming people’s brains for any kind of distress or upset that they exhibit, as if their surroundings and experiences and the people and stresses they have to deal with have nothing whatsoever to do with their suffering. I object most strenuously of all to those embracing the DSM categories using them to look down on those so categorized and treat them with disrespect and prejudice and discrimination based solely on the category that the “professionals” have chosen to put them into, including locking some up and forcing “treatment” on them that may or may not be helpful and may or may not be totally destructive, without that person having a word to say about it.

            As the person who is suffering, I consider that you have every right to decide what your suffering means to you and what you think may be helpful or destructive. I don’t think it’s someone else’s job to make up subjective or arbitrary categories and then tell you what is “wrong” with your brain (even when they have almost zero knowledge of your brain) and what you have to do about it, and it’s especially not their job to force you to do it if you disagree with them. There is good evidence that this approach encourages a lack of empathy and a prejudiced approach to people who receive such labels, all of which I believe makes your life a lot tougher.

            So by all means, identify as you feel is appropriate and use whatever means you think will best help you deal with your reality. My comments are not about you and your choices, but about the intentional efforts of the psychiatric profession to create a false, pseudoscientific narrative to keep people like you under their control and to make billions for their profession and its big corporate allies. I will never apologize for attacking these efforts, but I want to be very clear that you and your needs are a completely different story, and I’ll fight for your right to define your own experience and needs.

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  13. “if meritocracy were real — that is, if hard work was recognized and compensated proportionally — the wealthiest people in the world would be women in sub-Saharan Africa who haul water for their families eight hours a day).”

    Then, after becoming the wealthiest people in the world as a reward for hauling water on their backs over long distances, they would cease hauling water on their backs for long distances, and invest their wealth in pipelines. They would then be undeserving of their wealth, and so in order to regain it, would destroy the pipelines and start over hauling water on their backs for long distances. Bringing them great wealth once more. And so again, they’d construct pipelines, and the loop would go on, indefinitely. That is, until a bright madman appeared like the ghost of Lawrence of Arabia, and he’d sit them all down — obviously manspreading — and he’d explain to them that a meritocracy necessarily exists in a vacuum. And that the reason they must go on lugging water on their backs over long distances, every day of their lives, was to ensure that specific meritocracies were able to go on elsewhere.

    In answer to your closing question: What have we become?

    The short answer is, our true human nature is nihilism. In fact, all successful living things, given the right conditions, become nihilistic.

    Sometimes suicide is weak. Sometimes it is strong. Sometimes suicide is cowardly, sometimes it is brave. Sometimes suicide is selfish, sometimes it is selfless. Often it is a messy mix of contradictions. Sometimes we assume suicide when it was never actually suicide, problem being the suicided is not available to put us right.

    To demand that we only ever view suicide as strong, brave and selfless is to demand that we adopt a blinkered delusion. A more sensible approach is to take each suicided or suicidal person as they come, and don’t jump to rash, positivising conclusions.

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  14. I don’t think this article or comments are very fair.
    I do not think we live in a culture of mandated happiness. We do partially, but we also live in a culture of victims. We also have a fetish with unhappiness in our contemporary culture.
    We have evolved gruadally from being community-oriented beings to being very individualistic beings. This causes al sorts of effects. One of them is that people feel less safe, and less comforted. The essence of humans in the early ages of our existence has always been community. Look at how tribes live. Now we are more and more focused on personal accomplishments. That creates all sorts of changes, and turmoil. One of them is that people feel more anxious, insecure, pressured. Another is that we are desperately looking for an identity. This can also create an overidentification with one’s own sadness and sedbacks. And like Zygmunt Bauman said indiviualisation is a defensive-mechanism to our fast-changing culture.

    Sadness and fear is human, but our modern experience with it is cause by sociological changes. So many people are dissatified with their existence. Both because the way humans always have lived is falling apart (community, nature, spiritual practice,…) and is being replaced by a relentless belief in progress and self-realization. But also because we cling to our sadness for identification. Nobody knows what this constant progress will bring and this causes fear.

    Being this unsatisfied like a lot of people are is not the human condition. So it is also a normal human reaction to look for positivity. Just like sadness is a normal human reaction to live events, so is the need for positivity/hope, positive social encouters.

    Nowaday we are just bombarded with negative news, with negative encouters. Gwendolyn Brooks said “one reason why cats are happier than people is that they don’t have newspapers.” We hear about the destruction of the environment, we here about war, we hear about animal abuse, we hear about civil rights abuse, we hear about disease,… That is a lot to bear for a person with empathic abilities. Also we are surrounded by concrete. Our most fundamental need for community is not there. So how can we as humans with a strong need for hope and postivity get that feeling?
    So many people do not feel well these days, so if you should listen to everyones pain one would have to hear misery constantly on top of the worldwide misery. Very few people are saints.
    Secondly, so many people who spill there misery on you are capable of providing care back to you. I have met so many people who just drop all there shit on you without giving anything back. There are so just occupied with theirselves. (the indivualisation-the defense mechanism) It is a viscious circle.

    I have had so many negative people in my life who are only occupied with themselves. After a while you feel so completely drained. I am a human and I have a basic need for the positive, I have a basic need for reciprocity. I try very hard to find meaning in this world. Otherwise I start feeling like killing myself. I have been really critical of the consumer culture, which indeed is also active in human relationships nowadays. However, I came to notice that you also have to protect yourself. Sadly, I cannot be a saint. Some people can and I admire them.
    Some people just expect everything to go right in life and today this is even more the case. We cannot expect to use people as our garbage bin for our own negativity. However, I have met many people how behave like that. We should support each other in a mutual way. Listening to each other and trying to find a silverlining in life. We crave connectedness so much.

    If we want to decrease suicide we have to get back to the basics. Nature, community, manual work, …
    The connection between civilization, modernity and alienation and depression have been documented and discussed by many anthropologists and sociologists and other thinkers.

    Anyway the point I want to make is that the need for happiness is a basic human need and that we are nowadays subjected to so much negativity on so many levels. There is nothing natural or human about it. There is a darker side to life, but there is also a brighter side to life and to be able to live is a balancing work between the two sides. The way humans have lived for thousand of years tells us something about our needs and human nature. Why are suicide rates increasing? Why were suicides rates so small in certain communities in the past ?
    Mandated happiness is not the cause. Mandated happiness (if it exists) is just like individualism a defense-mechanism and not the cause of the increasing suicide rate. The cause is more likely the increasing negativity, the constant progress and change, the lack of nature/the environmental destruction, the decreasing sense of community and therefor security,…

    So express yourself to your friends and family, but also let them express themselves to you.

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    • Gwendolyn Brooks said “one reason why cats are happier than people is that they don’t have newspapers.”

      Cats appear happier than humans perhaps because they are psychopathic predators indulged by their human owners.

      Cats never look happy when my dog is chasing them. “Go get the little [beep]!. Go get ’em!”

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  15. Good article. A society based on hyper-individualism and ruled by the dictates of the market is extremely dehumanizing. It reduces human beings to standalone “brands” that must constantly compete with each other if they wish to survive in such an environment. Every human interaction, is reduced to a business transaction involving a cost/benefit analysis. Think of finding “love” using an app like Tinder.. can’t get much more dehumanizing and transactional than that.

    A society with no shared values that bring people together, where everybody is potentially a competitor and the only recognized value comes from conspicuous consumption…this completely corrupts human relationships. A person whose skills and abilities are not profit oriented is going to suffer. A person who makes “bad choices” earlier in life and doesn’t have a family or a big support network is forever relegated to the margins of society and nobody cares what they have to offer.

    People are taught to look out for #1 and jettison “negative” people from their lives as if fake happiness is healthy or a virtue. They become cliquish and mean.

    There are a lot of lonely and hurting people out there.

    A permanent state of happiness is unattainable and denying that suffering and despair exist is a sure sign something is wrong. A well adjusted people have no need to fanatically seek an always elusive neverending state of happiness or to deny uncomfortable emotions. Not being “happy” enough can get a person fired these days.

    The western world is becoming unhinged. Everyone knows it. Yet nobody talks about it. Climate change? Some tech genius will invent an app that solves that little problem, don’t worry about it…just pretend all is ok!

    The writing is on the wall but barley anyone notices.

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  16. Are you familiar with Byung-Chul Han? Maybe you’d find some of his writing appealing. See especially “The topology of violence” (Spanish version “Topologia de la violencia” is easily findable in PDF … English version just recently published); “Saving Beauty” (English version partially on Google Books, Spanish version – “Salvación de lo Bello” – easily findable in PDF); and Han’s remarks generally on the “excess of positivity” in the contemporary order.

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  17. @ Steve

    Having an hallucination is not thinking or acting. You can think about it, or react to it. But it isn’t so much a problem of who you are as a person, but more a problem of what happens to you as a person when you hallucinate. Or even not that. It can be simply having hallucinations is problematic.

    Above you wrote: “I really believe that if pseudo-scientific labeling were eliminated, very few people would want these drugs.”

    I was reacting to that missive. On reflection I shouldn’t have bothered. I can see now you were simply indulging a fantasy.

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    • “Very few” doesn’t mean “nobody.” I have never argued for an elimination of the drugs, as I am well aware that a significant percentage of those labeled as “mentally ill” find them helpful in one way or another. I simply object to the psychiatric profession defining your reality for you, and especially to them forcing “treatment” onto you whether you find it helpful or not.

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      • These drugs are not medicines and should never be approved as “medical treatment.” While I support drug legalization in general, it should be kept in mind that these toxins were developed specifically for controlling people in the guise of medicine, not responding to a public demand. So that’s a little different than “recreational” drugs, and the issue comes down to more than just “personal choice.”.

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        • Emotional pain killers is a better label. I benefited ages ago from a small dose of the neuroleptic Stelazine. If I had used the period of mild numbness to enhance social skills–then been taken off in 4 or 6 weeks it might have been a good thing.

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      • Thanks for clarifying your conjecture.

        You believe that very few people would choose to take psychiatric drugs to ease their difficulties if a psychiatric diagnosis wasn’t attached to them. In that fantasy scenario, in which all the stigma of a psychiatric diagnosis is removed, surely there is probably a greater chance that more people would take psychiatric drugs to ease their problems?

        The closest analogy I can muster to your idea is what happened in the UK following the upgrading of cannabis from a Class C illicit substance to a Class B. Illicit use went up. Previously, when moved the other way, from a Class B to a Class C, use went down. Perhaps the more forbidden something is, the more people want it?

        Gross oversimplification but that’s the way of drug discourse these days.

        “I simply object to the psychiatric profession defining your reality for you”

        They don’t and never did. They offered a perspective and I rejected it. Ironically after 20 years of being off the drugs I’m more open to their perspective than when resisting it. Although would rather join the Aghori and adopt their diet than swallow an antipsychotic ever again.

        I agree with you that force is wrong.

        But people that take the psychiatric drugs aren’t by and large fools who need “waking up” by the likes of you and I. Granted, some people need to be exposed to other points of view, including antipsychiatric
        points of view.

        If only that they can be sure that their decisions are based on a broad sweep of opinions.

        Although I can’t foresee antipsychiatry ever gaining a foothold or making much of a dent in the zeitgeist. There is a struggle going on amongst all disabled people to gain and retain their full human rights and antipsychiatry, at least what I’ve witnessed of it on here, seems to play the role of a huge spanner in the works of that struggle.

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  18. @kindredspirit

    I haven’t claimed to have a mental illness. I’ve put forward the idea that in all probability my problems stem from a functional disorder of the brain. In fact, before mental illness became a cultural trope, the more humble notion of functional disorder held sway. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t also beset with problems. The mad culture will always be beset with problems. The massive explosion in mental illness is a completely different discussion. The massive explosion in psychiatric drugging is also a completely different discussion.

    I am not attacking “[making] space for those in pain and those experiencing realities differently.” I’ve involved myself in doing just that in my local area with some measure of success, considering how conservative it is. I haven’t taken psychiatric drugs for 20 years. I point people to thinkers and ideas outside of the mainstream whenever the opportunity arises.

    But what I wouldn’t do is tell them that they do not have a functional disorder of the brain, or even that they do. What I would say to them is that, if they measure the probabilities, they might find, like I have, that the probability points to a compelling likelihood that they have. Just as I wouldn’t play armchair expert with other people that have been recognised as suffering functional disorders, such as ME, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and dementia.

    I’m sorry that you think the gastrointestinal system of the human race is permanently knackered. As a way of possible solace, try and think about how people are now living much longer and enjoying much better quality of lives compared to say 200 years ago when their guts were in supposedly perfect bacteriological shape.

    I think psychiatry needs to tighten its belt, rip up the DSM, and start over. The problem is that would entail it having to reduce its power, relevance, and financial clout.

    My only objection is extremism. So little is known or understood about the brain that to make an extremist claim either way is, to me, unacceptable. But the fact that schizophrenia rears itself over and over again, among the rich and the poor, among the old and the young, among those who have suffered terrible trauma, and those that haven’t, among those that have an education and those that don’t… indicates to me that, at least some of the time, with those who are diagnosed as such, something functional (or structural) within the brain itself is giving rise to the suffering.

    Schizophrenia, Bipolar 1 were never voted in to the DSM. They pre-dated it.

    I don’t berate alternative approaches to madness. Although snake oil is snake oil, and a con is a con. In actual fact my own approach to suffering numerous psychoses has been to largely forego psychiatric drugs for nearly two decades. But even though I have been able to do that, sometimes alone, sometimes with support, the psychoses go on, the problems and the suffering go on, and for a long time I believed that the very small number of people who pushed the idea that all mental illness was a myth, were onto something. And that all I had to do was change my diet, my social life, or my dreams, and that I could effect a cure. After many decades of trying almost everything these people recommend, I am still in a situation of experiencing regular psychosis, mania, mood problems, anhedonia and so on and so forth, which are impacting, life-limiting and make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

    Of course, the brain and the mind being what they are, it is possible to elicit meaning out of otherwise random and disparate experiences. You only have to stare at the clouds for a few minutes and soon enough you’ll start spotting things. Now that you’ve spotted an enormous flying elephant in the sky, there is an enormous flying elephant in the sky?

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      • Hi. Can’t really respond to this with too much education behind me, plus talking about “mental health” is always a slippery slope as I’m sure you’re aware. What I would caution against though is citing “scientific research” to prove that people are incapable of restoring their physical integrity, which is what we’re really talking about here. I don’t believe that anything is irreversible, but in this toxic culture our biochemistry can get so out of whack in so may ways at once that the body is often never allowed to find its original balance, which is the key to (real) health. But is there a point here I’m missing?

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        • Well I’m not talking about biochemistry but rather the extinction of species of gut bacteria due to modern influences (antibiotics, chlorinated water, more calories but less nutrition) that have for a relatively short period of time expanded human lifespans (roughly the last hundred years) but which are beginning to catch up with us.

          I’m sure you wouldn’t argue that the animals of the earth are going extinct at a relatively rapid pace, as are insects, plants, etc. And so it turns out the same is happening in our guts. And processes that were previously thought to be taking place in the brain, for example neurotransmitter production, appear to actually be happening on a far far greater scale in the gut. This is why it’s somewhat laughable when I see so much pushback against nutritional therapies here on MIA. It’s hard to believe people don’t think they have to nourish themselves to be healthy, both in body and in “mind”. But for those of us even remotely educated on the microbiome, it’s unthinkable that we wouldn’t actually have to nourish the ecosystem living within us.

          There haven’t been a lot of articles on the gut-brain-axis here on MIA but I believe it is something we will see more of as the field becomes better known. And it is going to turn psychiatry and the “mental health” field on its head because it’s the first hard science to show any promise in helping people recover from the distressing “mental” symptoms that have been so long attributed to the “mind”.

          But a major roadblock to that ever being possible is the current runaway socioeconomic inequality and the rapidly approaching and irreversible climate change and the resulting actual resource scarcity.

          We all loved it here when the article was published about the UN’s resolution on the treatment of people with “mental illness”, but I wonder how many of the authors and readers here pay attention to the U.N. climate change warnings, and the repeated calls for the entire planet to immediately shift to a plant based diet void of meat and dairy in order to curb methane emissions severely enough to actually save the planet and the humans and nonhuman animals that inhabit it. I suspect very few, because like anything that first requires a change in behavior and attitude, it’s not going to happen willingly.

          As I said on Bob’s article, humans are notoriously bad at gambling. We have a pervasive, won’t happen to me attitude. Despite the dire warnings from all corners, from climate scientists, from nutritionists, from agriscience, from sociologists, maybe it’s just that we’re all so stressed and there are too many warnings now but by and large people make very little in the way of concrete changes. Most of the ills in the world can be traced back to humans doing what is easy instead of what is smart.

          So to go back to your assertion that science shouldn’t be used to assert that people can’t restore their physical integrity, well that’s exactly what I’m doing. There’s a lot of junk science out there; industry funding, researcher bias, publication bias, and institutional pressures, but that doesn’t mean that science is useless in guiding and informing our lives and that we should sit around singing kumbaya in our little feel good sessions wringing our hands because we don’t know whom to trust anymore and don’t know what to believe. There probably is very little that can be done on the small scale at this point, on the individual level, and that’s part of why it’s so damn depressing.

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          • There are also many people who have recovered from “incurable” diseases. But my main hiccup here is in conflating physical health, which is a valid consideration — and I have no argument with your focus on gut bacteria — and “mental health,” which I assume at this point you know is a false concept. If we’re talking science here I have no problem with that — I approach anti-psychiatry in a scientific way — but we also have to be aware of what Dr. Timini(?) refers to as “scientism” (to Richard L.’s dismay).

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          • This is why it’s somewhat laughable when I see so much pushback against nutritional therapies here on MIA.

            Pretty sure you’re sidestepping the point, or at least mine. The “pushback” your refer to is not about whether or not your information about gut health is accurate; I have no reason to believe it is not. The problem arises when one treats this as a “mental health” matter, rather than an actual (physical) health matter. “Mental health,” good or bad, is a fiction. That’s all I’m trying to emphasize.

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    • Draptemania, melancholia and hysteria also predate the DSM manuals. Melancholia and hysteria were “treated” with blood-letting and cauterization. Lovely stuff!

      Blood-letting and starving were considered effective treatment modalities since they made the patients quiet and easy to control. There is nothing new under the sun.

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      • And women were the main targets for the hysteria and melancholia labels. And you’re absolutely right about the wonderful “treatments” meted out to them all in the name of helping them, for their own good of course. It’s interests me how women have been the targets of so much of the quackery called psychiatry and mental health. In the thirties and forties in this country if wives of prominent men didn’t do exactly as they were told they found themselves in asylums and labeled as “mentally ill”. When women became inconvenient they ended up in the asylum.

        First the witch hunts and burnings at the stake in the Dark and Middle Ages and then the asylums if you didn’t tow the acceptable line in the 1900’s.

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  19. So much in this article i have often (almost daily) thought, but have not had the presence of mind to express as clearly as Megan Wildhood has. The fact is, we’re all only human. Society (other people, friends, family, some professionals, media) loves to label, diagnose, evaluate & criticize. What does this do for someone who is honest about their human frailty? Nothing helpful. When we come back to the idea we’re all only human, with needs for safe connections, without being labelled, shamed or further isolated for experiencing and expressing perfectly ordinary human needs, we’ll actually start to be helpful to people who dare to be honest enough not to hide behind the “i’m fine” false bravado, which helps no one. People are not crazy, no matter how extreme the thoughts, or behaviour. Everyone has their breaking point. What you see of someone on the outside, and what hell they go through behind closed doors, are often two very different things. The automatic reaction of naming, blaming, & shaming someone who dares to be real, has got to end. How to do ? What about instead of judging, evaluating, diagnosing, putting someone in a category…we try, oh, let’s say…just listening to their feelings. Without judgement, without advice. Without blame or criticism & condemnation. The only way i was able to recover my equilibrium & get through the days & nights, and many difficult moments, has been through the reading the work of Haim Ginott. “Between Parent and Child”, a most truthful, and helpful book i’ve possibly ever read. Wishing everyone who doesn’t have someone near & dear to them who just understands and doesn’t try to judge them – peace, strength, and self-understanding. This is the great gift i got from reading the book, and from watching the short tv interviews of Haim & Alice Ginott. Yes, it is hard to be a caring, thinking, feeling human being these days. May those who read this article & any written material by the Ginotts, gain the strength and understanding that we’re all just human, no one is ever “crazy”, “mental” or any other name, just because we’re having feelings and are brave enough to be honest about it !

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