Does ‘Mental Illness’ Exist? The Problem With Psychiatric Diagnosis


From Lucy Johnstone in IAI, the Institute of Art and Ideas: “The question really needs re-phrasing in two parts. If we framed the first part as ‘Do people really experience extreme forms of distress such as suicidal despair, hearing hostile voices, crippling anxiety and mood swings?’ then of course the answer is yes. As a clinical psychologist who has worked in the field of mental health for over three decades, and as a human being who is not immune from distress myself, I know this very well. But my answer to the implied second part ‘Are these experience best understood as “mental illnesses”?’ is a definite no. The concept of ‘mental illness’ obviously exists, as do the concepts of witches, ghosts and God – but the idea that the very real experiences subsumed under this term are best explained as medical disorders does not have, and has never had, any evidence to support it . . .

As the eminent psychologist Dorothy Rowe put it, ‘In the final analysis, power is the right to have your definition of reality prevail over all other people’s definition of reality’ (Rowe). The good news is that some people, offered alternative sources of information, have been able to undo the definitions that were imposed on them and make different choices. This is true of many former psychiatric patients who are now prominent activists and campaigners. It also needs to be true of all of us, as individuals and as a society.”

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  1. Mental illnesses probably don’t have an independent existence, but “mental” consequences of physical illnesses certainly do. Obvious things are dietary deficiency diseases like pellagra, heavy metal poisoning, metabolic excesses or shortages. Just being a psychiatrist doesn’t exempt you from knowing these things, while simultaneously pretending to have secret “bio-medical” knowledge unknown to peasants.

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  2. i like your take on this. I think it is worth noting–stealing from Szasz, as usual–that if and when a “mental illness” is shown to have a biologically rooted cause…it is no longer a “mental illness,” and the treatment is handed over to (real) doctors.

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    • Well, if you’re a shrink, you’d better know about these diseases and be able to identify them- it could be expensive if you didn’t. Though psychiatric patients don’t sue, I suspect a real patient will if wrongly treated for a “psychiatric” disorder for a “mental” disease (s)he didn’t have and you gave them akathisia (to boot) with a misdirected attempt at pharmacotherapy for the nonexistent mental condition.

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  3. Thanks to MIA, and Lucy Johnstone.
    Social judgments turned into a practice. How utterly boring of a job for psychiatry.
    They either have no clue how this looks? Or they don’t care. This phenomena of ourselves judging each other, which everyone does, for some reason went from witch burning to this even worse practice.
    It is a reflection of an unrecognized problem our brains have, we judge and feel that our reality defines another. We can’t even define a duck.
    I maintain that the so called brain problem actually resides within the psychiatric brain and thought process, wherein there seems to be an inability to allow for variation of their so called norm, or envisioned ideology.
    There are definitely suffering people, often with an underlying sensitive nature.
    Psychiatry seems to lack sensitivity and even empathy, or insight into the many variations of humans. They draw a concrete line and that is fine if you are in a social setting, but should never be allowed as human control.
    It is far from society’s best interest, since the practice of power against dress, behaviour, color, thought is barbaric and speaks of an ill informed society.
    When psychiatry stoops so low as to enforce medications on millions who have done nothing wrong, children included.
    Their system is not in any way different than what has transpired on basis of race or color, and greed.
    I guess the name for psychiatry’s malady is ignorance. Is that ignorance willful? It might be by some, and I’m sure after a few years in Psychiatry they see the nonsense that they are practicing, but I think by this time the world they built around their career is too important for them to lose.
    We gave psychiatry a chance, and it made them feel important, they cannot let go of this ego trip, which they seemingly don’t even recognize.

    It will not always be this way, trends change. History tells us that at all times, some power will exist. The next power might just be one that absolutely will not accept absolute power any any longer.

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