“Mental Health” Is a Euphemism for Policing Social Deviance

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In recent years, the public debate has shifted from discussing ‘mental illnesses’ to the broader framework of ‘mental health’. Mental illness is presented to us as any other illness, but public campaigns encourage us to talk positively about ‘mental health’ and to ‘raise awareness’.

While it is extremely important to combat stigma and, indeed, to raise awareness about the importance of mental health, the current state of the public conversation doesn’t do that. Instead, by focusing on ‘mental health’ as an abstract object, the conversation shifts the public’s attention away from societal problems that increase distress.

‘Mental health’ is a euphemism that conceals the fact that mental illness is still viewed and treated as a social deviance, dealt with by the authoritarian institution of psychiatry.

One of the most important papers in sociology, still studied to this day, is Robert Merton’s ‘Social Theory and Structure’ (written in 1938). It’s still listed as a key text for certifications in sociology.

It’s difficult to read it today without noting its problematic nature; Merton essentially positions certain people as social outcasts, who retreated from the society because they were unable to adjust. In this category he lumps together those with mental health problems, the extremely poor, and criminals:

“Persons who ‘adjust’ (or maladjust) in this fashion are, strictly speaking, in the society but not of it. Sociologically, these constitute the true ‘aliens’. Not sharing the common frame of orientation, they can be included within the societal population merely in a fictional sense. In this category are some of the activities of psychotics, psychoneurotics, chronic autists, pariahs, outcasts, vagrants, vagabonds, tramps, chronic drunkards and drug addicts.”

According to Merton, then, some people can be included in our society only ‘in a fictional sense’. They have deviated from the norms of society enough to become ‘true aliens’.

Why do I bring up a text from 1938 here? After all, it represents quite an outdated way of viewing these social issues and mental health problems.

The text of Merton, even if it was written in 1938, is still very relevant today because it simply tells the truth about how society views mental distress, which is concealed by the ways that society currently talks about mental health (its discourse). Officially, most of the categories mentioned by Merton, such as ‘some of the activities of psychotics’, and ‘drug addicts’, are now labeled as mental health disorders, and are treated as illnesses. Psychiatrists, based on the positivist way of thinking, assure us that mental illnesses like these are a brain disease which can be treated.

At the same time, more and more disorders are added into an already vast collection of psychiatric diagnoses. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), known as ‘The Psychiatrist’s Bible’, lists all kinds of mental health problems, and all (including totally unrelated societal problems and real cases of distress) come now under the domain of mental illnesses.

Yet, the public conversation is now focused on using the term ‘mental health’, which shifts the emphasis. Instead of focusing on how we still view and treat mental distress as social deviance, the conversation becomes how we should talk about mental distress in public, creating a dichotomy between mental illness (recognized as social deviance) and the buzzword of ‘mental health’.

This highlights the main problem that mental health debate conceals, as much as it tries to convince us to the contrary. Representing mental distress under the umbrella term of ‘mental health’ creates an abstract discourse which presupposes a positive perception of mental health problems. However, this happens in parallel to treating mental illness as social deviance in real life, with patients and service users not seeing any real improvement in mental health services, and in failing to see how they can contribute to the discourse as service users.

Whenever reforms to the psychiatric system have happened, it was initiated by social reformers, as well as psychiatric survivors—those who had experienced the system—and aided by a few physicians. The main cause was to combat stigma and to ensure better treatment for psychiatric patients.

However, what has happened in the recent years is that the debate on mental health has been stolen from the service users, and the hands of big pharmaceutical companies have co-opted the fight against stigma. Although they claim to be reducing stigma with these ‘mental health’ awareness campaigns, stigma is not decreasing but shifting its focus. The campaigns encourage one to talk about one’s ‘illness’ but they do not change the opinion of the general public, who—according to study after study—continue to want distance from those with mental health problems and who view those with major mental health diagnoses as being more dangerous than ever.

In my own experience, discrimination based on psychiatric diagnoses is still an everyday concern. I, and others like me, know that if we actually discuss our ‘mental health’ we are at risk of losing our jobs, failing to get hired in the first place, losing our social networks, and so on. If we were to obey the awareness campaigns, we would be harmed because of it.

What the public debate on mental health hides is that psychiatry is an outlet for behaviour management, disguising it under the umbrella of presumed, unverifiable ‘brain disease’, and where the inclusion of an increasing number of diagnoses makes it impossible to fight any stigma, since diagnoses and disorders incorporate now all manifestations of difference, out-of-the-box thinking, and various personalities, together with psychosis and depression. Service users cannot keep up with an expanding list of diagnoses in order to address any discrimination and stigma.

It was in 1963 when Erving Goffman, a distinguished sociologist, thanked the psychiatrists in the beginning of his book ‘Behaviour in Public Places’ for providing us with the official guidance in terms of how we monitor behaviour. As he said, it’s up to the psychiatrists to judge the instances of inappropriate behaviour, and then deliver a diagnosis.

It is in this field of critical realism that we should look at the debate on mental health, by recognising that the psychiatry has become an outlet for dealing with societal deviance, and where raising awareness about mental health issues becomes a discourse which takes our attention away from this development.

If we look again at what is studied to receive a sociology degree/certification, especially in the UK, we can see a clear preference for functionalist approach to how we view ourselves as a society, reflecting the current stance of the conservative government in the UK, but also how other governments operate in Western hemisphere. They all adopted a functionalist approach towards society.  Functionalists look at the society as an organised structure where institutions such as family, education, etc, play an important role to sustain a functioning society.

Durkheim, one of the most famous functionalist sociologists, thus argued that society was a social order based on shared norms and values. In order to maintain this order, the society recognises what is considered to be a normal behaviour and what is not, with such institutions as the police exerting the main control over those who break this order.

Robert Merton put people who broke the law into the category of ‘innovation’. He studied American society and argued that the society’s goal of the ‘American dream’ was simply unattainable for some via convenient means, and as a result, some individuals would try to achieve this goal by using illegitimate means.

But we also have individuals in the society who do not conform by their way of thinking, and psychiatry was created in order to tackle these individuals by successfully renaming people that Merton placed in his category of ‘retreatism’ as ‘mentally ill’, who could be looked upon by such an institution as psychiatry. Psychiatry maintains its legitimacy by claiming that mental illness is a brain disease with biological explanations, and that one day a neurological defect will be established in all mental illnesses.

This claim is one of the most successful marketing campaigns in human history because it gives the psychiatry the power to act as a domain of medicine, and we cannot argue with medicine since it is supposed to heal us. The research which contradicts psychiatry’s claim that mental illness is a brain disease is silenced and put into the domain of heresy, and psychiatrists who question the status quo are pushed away from the power structure of the institution itself.

How we look at mental distress under the umbrella term of ‘mental health’ is of particular importance today because anti-stigma campaigns, such as the slogan of the UK government ‘No health without mental health’ conceal the real picture of how we still view mental malaise in our society. We will continue looking at manifestations of mental distress in a very negative, stigmatic way when new diagnoses of mental health are added constantly to the list of mental health disorders.

Talking about mental health in its general terms only hides the fact that psychiatry has become an institution dealing with societal deviance, and contributes to the reinforcement of medical capitalism, where everything is justified to increase spending on drug treatment and research involving drug development, at the detriment of people with real problems and in need of real help, instead of being passive witnesses of the campaigns which do not include them as users and patients.

It also conceals the fact that medical capitalism incorporates the rise of numerous applications and products aimed to help people struggling with their ‘mental health’ problems and trying to find an outlet for the malaise of the society lost on a spiritual level in the Western hemisphere and during the Covid pandemic. We are seeing the proliferation of new applications on meditation on a daily basis, but they seem to fail to counteract the rise of mental health problems, especially among young people.

Looking at mental health problems in its general terms takes our attention away from the fact that nothing has changed in terms of how we view mental distress as a society. It creates a discourse about how we are supposed to talk about it in public, creating a false political correctness, with underlying stigma remaining firmly in place. It presents us with a fake promise that it is okay to talk about one’s mental health problems, while it is still not okay to be mentally distressed.

Some regulations in countries in the West effectively deprive certain people of their freedom, and mental health patients can be detained against their will in the hospital. They are released back into the community without any real support, apart from being drugged with a medication which, as research shows, can inflict considerable damage if taken in the long term. There is no real financial help, psychological counselling, or possibility to re-educate or retrain in order to accommodate the new life demands that a mental health condition creates.

How we still view mental distress as a society is presented to us in the sociology degree and certification in the UK, but how we are supposed to talk about it is presented to us in numerous anti-stigma campaigns that don’t really lead to anything concrete, such as actual help for those who have been diagnosed with a ‘mental illness’.

By focussing the debate on ‘health’ our attention is moved away from such societal problems as poverty, inequality, the rise in society of the Spectacle (through the increased use of online technologies), and increasing alienation that people experience both at work and in education systems.

The expansion of diagnoses tries to conceal the truth that it is becoming harder to remain emotionally balanced and mentally healthy when the attainment of a happy and fulfilled life has become impossible for many, especially recently due to the pandemic. Merton was right in his analysis of the society and the difficulties in the attainment of the ‘American Dream’, which is translated in other Western societies as a pursuit of status and wealth. He was also right in defining some of his categories.

He was wrong, though, in defining his category of ‘retreatism’, as people he had listed in this category, in their majority, do not retreat by choice, but are unable to cope under the burden of the demands of the modern life. But by putting all societal problems under the umbrella term of ‘mental health’, the societal malaise is relegated to the domain of medicine, where existential problems, together with real cases of mental distress, are supposedly being treated by the specialists.

It also conceals the dichotomy between behaviour punishment and health. Psychiatry, as an institution, is only possible because some behavioural patterns are considered to be symptoms of mental disorder, while others are not. It can be seen in the fact that diagnoses are based on observation, or, more often, the patient’s self-report, and not on rigorous physical evaluation, such as tests that are conducted to establish physical illnesses.

The statement of Western governments that ‘mental illness is like any other illness’, as well as the positioning of it under the term of ‘mental health’, leads to the exclusion of consideration of other factors in cases of mental distress, such as social and psychological dimensions. Looking at all mental distress in the framework of ‘mental health’ means that such factors as isolation, poverty, psychological trauma, and inequality, are taken out of the equation, and are treated as if these problems do not play a role, while if we go back to the analysis of Merton, it is the struggle on a societal level that leads to problems for some individuals to conform to the established picture of an ideal citizen.

By treating all mental problems as ‘mental health’ in a public domain, politicians take away the attention of the public from rising inequality, the struggle of the young people in a society which places ever more demands on the achievement of success, increasing pressure on children at schools with tests and exams, and racial and gender issues.

By renaming occurrences of mental malaise into umbrella term ‘mental health’, politicians, policy-makers and also psychiatrists, effectively conceal the fact that ‘mental health’ talks about ‘societal malaise’, and not about individuals suffering from mental health problems, who do not see any improvement in terms of their treatment.

While the public campaign encourages us to talk about mental health, as some sort of an abstract object, mental health services are undergoing budget cuts, hospitals lack staff, and patients have to wait for years to receive treatment, or are sent miles away from their homes in order to receive help. All this happens in parallel with the psychiatry acquiring an increasing power as an agent of behavioural control.

Psychiatrists do not want to acknowledge the fact that they have become guardians of social order. Psychiatry has effectively moved in recent years into the crime and deviance section, but is presented to us as a health profession in a positive light. Perhaps psychiatrists as doctors can heal and treat real cases of distress and even illness, but it happens at the same time as some patients are deprived of their rights via mental health regulations in the majority of countries in the Western Hemisphere. It also happens at the same time as stigma is increasing, where seeing mental illness as any other physical illness leads to more negative public judgement and hinders prospects of recovery for those affected, as patients with mental health problems need to reintegrate back into the community and feel as a part of it.

In order to redress the balance between the discourse on ‘mental health’ and real problems in real life, such as a lack of budget within mental health services, cuts of benefits for those affected by mental health problems, and stigma, we need to shift the discussion back to individual and totally different problems that the umbrella term ‘mental health’ started to encompass in one go.

We need to talk about the concept of ‘social deviance’ and the role of psychiatry in enforcing social order, which also leads back to discussion of what we consider normal or abnormal, and why. We need to go back to discussion of individual distress and consider whether increasing number of diagnoses helps to distinguish between concrete problems, or, on the contrary, creates an illusion that if we name something as ‘disorder’ when everything can be treated by the means of the drugs.

We need to go back to analysing the environmental aspects of mental distress and include psychological and sociological perspectives next to the hegemony that psychiatry exercises. Or, if we decide that we should talk about ‘mental health’ in its general terms, then we should abandon diagnoses all together and look at manifestations of mental malaise as manifestations of societal malaise as such.

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

28 COMMENTS

  1. Well, I didn’t read it yet — other than super quick skimming — because I’m an impatient person.

    But, the headline jumped out at me right away.

    “Euphemism for policing social deviance.”

    I have a bit of a problem with failure to fully expound on the notion of “social deviance” all the while just throwing that word out there, and letting the audience guess at what they might call “deviant.”

    For instance, some forms of social deviance amount to failure to respect proper boundaries in one’s interactions with others, or failures to conform to social norms in a way that’s polite and considerate of others.

    Of course, that is behavioral and drugs cannot handle that. And, that is also NOT what this headline obviously means.

    As someone who has had issues with extreme amounts of corruption and mafia like stuff at “respectable” mainstream institutions like Harvard, with ties to the U.S. government and the ability to get the govt to cover up their crimes, and then what you have happen here is an institution where people get excluded unless they conform, and over the years, basically the whole “inside” community goes increasingly further and further and further off the deep end when it comes to how far from mainstream notions of “normal” they are and how deviant they are.

    Except, they are not deviant as individuals. They are all deviant as a whole brainwashed group that is like an extremist cult. This could have been enabled by the fact that the FBI failed to ever police them. After initially deciding to go after the mafia, the FBI chose to regard academic institutions and the ivy league schools as “beyond their purview” and “un-investigatable” from the perspective of the mafia.

    Which creates a situation — and you can go study economics and economics will say this WOULD happen — which creates a situation where corporations can pour monies into these institutions and turn them into vast profit centers for organized crime. And what do they say about money and how it corrupts?

    Anyway, you can end up with a whole entire deviant community, so vastly brainwashed away from mainstream norms that it would be utterly shocking to the ordinary community to discover the truth, yet these individuals on the inside are so used to it, they fail to fully appreciate how bad they are and even develop a sense of entitlement about the wrongs they do — they all agree with each other and all reinforce each other and also arrogantly and aggressively exclude all those who might even say a word that could help them see reality better.

    Except, here’s the clincher: I went to Harvard and witnessed that. Guess what? The same corporations paying them off also pay off politicians and mental hospitals and medical institutions and a whole network of charities that are connected and whose sole purpose for their existence, in many cases, is as recipients of corporate bribery which in some ways is a form of money laundering.

    So I had crooked cops and crooked doctors, as well as a few local crooked businesses, and actually a large corporation as well (subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway owned by Warren Buffett) all jump on the same Harvard bandwagon and reinforce their brainwashed deviant reality.

    On top of it, when I was a victim of the mafia — after dropping out of Harvard due to their horrible behavior — and I note, my subsequent victimhood was a direct result of what Harvard had done and Harvard was clearly involved and had their fingerprints all over it, one of the weird things they did was arrange for me to be stalked by criminals, in the gay scene, mind you, who went out of their way to proclaim their ties to all sorts of horribly deviant groups. Pedophile rings, but worse than just child molesters who do it in a nice way. Brutal rapists who cause permanent damage in some cases and seek to infect the victim — deliberately — with HIV. Or who commit the kinds of rapes with bottles and knives and other sharp objects we hear about in Bosnia. And who also do work for Big Pharma in terms of intentionally trying to raise HIV rates in gay men by deliberately infecting many against their will. Sometimes using date rape drugs for the purpose. Often date rape drugging them in a particular bar, gang raping them to infect them, and dumping them in a public park afterwards to recover.

    I got stalked by one person who was acting weird. And then a whole group of other people tell me about these activities or underground groups involved in such activities this stalker was involved with. And they told me online in writing and I went to the police, twice — with logs of the conversation.

    Police react totally un-admirably regarding the matter. And then I am retaliated against pretty viciously by a local church I played the pipe organ at, as if they’d informed the mafia I’d been a “rat” or a “snitch.” Indeed, it was a daycare center owner who occasionally used parking spaces in the church who engaged in a weird pattern of behavior and then successfully arranged for me to be banned from parking there, and the minister took his side, unfairly.

    And the daycare center owner even went out of his way to make several double entendre remarks, like saying that parents needed “access to their kids” and my car was interfering with access to their kids. And when I said there was enough room, then he said it was about “visibility,” my car interfered with “visibility.”

    This was after I went to police a second time, due to someone telling me that the “group” in question also would pimp out the under age children of meth addicts.

    Wow. Now isn’t that pretty “in your face?” Shoving their own deviance down the rest of society’s throats, if you ask me. I am reminded of Saul Alinsky’s rules for radicals, where radicals get polite moderate people to cave by breaching all the various boundaries of politeness that more conservative people won’t breach and wouldn’t think of breaching. And they get away with stuff because they are that shockingly aggressive and bellicose about it.

    Anyway, later on, I got date rape drugged and criminally abused in all sorts of ways, and it was very obvious I was a victim. When a problem happened, police covered it up and took me to a hospital to have psych docs try to discredit me. Psych docs who knew the truth, said they knew the truth, but told me in no uncertain terms — often really nasty and intimidating — that I am to back off my allegations against this group or they will declare me to be schizophrenic.

    I even told them I had a massive paper trail backing my allegations up. They wouldn’t budge.

    In other words, again THEY were deviant and they were EMBRACING their own deviance and trying to shove it down my throat.

    They were not policing deviance in my case. THEY were deviant and they were policing my normality and trying to bully me into BECOMING deviant, or at least agreeing to it in theory.

    Turns out I was a victim of an unethical medical experiment during that time I didn’t figure out until much later on. Ended up being cured of genital herpes mysteriously — permanently. Never had an outbreak again yet, prior to this series of incidences, my immune system was so bad at controlling it that I was always in an outbreak unless I took enough of this particular herb, lemon balm.

    The drug companies who profit off management but not cure of herpes were giving money to Mass General Hospital and other Boston area hospitals and institutions. All “respectable” institutions who would never be involved with any of this crazy stuff, right? Well, that’s a clever organized crime ploy. Their aura of respectability combined with the utter crazy lunacy of my story. That means they can get away with it and no one is supposed to believe me. It sounds too far fetched.

    Note the story was totally crazy and loony because the perpetrators very cleverly made sure it would be. Because I knew they’d be wanting to cover things up by saying I was crazy, I documented everything on my computer and can establish that the “lunacy” of my story is 100 percent the fault of the perpetrators.

    Which illustrates a clever side to the system. You have super respectable institutions involved with the mafia. The media goes out of its way to cover up their dirty laundry and speak of them in super venerable tones. But they are deeply involved in criminal racketeering and, in line with their reputation for respectability, when they go about their organized crime schemes, they make sure to get people to do it all in a super crazy, off-the-wall melodramatic way, with tons of people doing tons of extra stuff to the victim that doesn’t even make sense, so that if you are the victim, you can’t tell the truth without your story sounding crazy.

    And, all along, they have people going bullying the victim around that very issue and trying to put them on the defensive. “Oh you sound crazy.” “Everyone has a problem with you, you know, haven’t you ever noticed, the one common denominator here is you. Maybe you need to take a good hard look at your own actions. It looks to me like you are the one provoking all this.” Stuff like that.

    The policing of deviance here is really tied to the covering up of organized crime. Which, in and of itself, IS deviant.

    On top of it, vast economic class and race differences in toleration of “deviance” hold. Where society engages in most policing of deviance among poor black men and poor white men next most, perhaps, even while whatever deviant behavior they allegedly engaged in to merit such punishment was a tiny fraction of the deviance so many rich white people routinely get away with. Or, alternatively, a small group of black people are allowed to engage in pretty severe deviance — only so long as they participate in the organized crime schemes of white society and, in many case, do terrible things to other members of the black community.

    Modern day Identity Politics would completely mitigate against the recognition of such phenomena. Defining racism in this pseudo-religious way and also as totally symbolic. Some person on the other side of the country can SAY a “racist thing” — or perhaps write it in a newspaper article — and all black people are now “victims” of that “racist thing.” As if society is pretending to have ceased oppressing blacks in all the same practical ways as before, and now the anti-racism fight has no other battles to fight, but for the exclusively and purely symbolic ones.

    Again, policing deviance isn’t about policing behavior. It’s about policing a person’s social class. With deviance defined according to who they are, not what they do. And what you are allowed to do depends solely on who you are and your social class. The policing of deviance, then, is really about putting someone of a certain social class in their place. It’s about saying “when YOU do it, it’s deviant, when HE does it, it’s illustrious.”

    Actually, notice how many high fallutin academics are very incoherent? Not only in their words. But their ideas are incoherent enough so, theoretically, if a poor black person in the inner city tried to say anything that incoherent, they’d be locked up and put in neureleptics for “schizophrenia.”

    But when a Harvard academic says something about as bad, we all agree we don’t understand it and it sounds incoherent to us because we are stupid in comparison to them.

  2. “Persons who ‘adjust’ (or maladjust) in this fashion are, strictly speaking, in the society but not of it.”

    What does the Holy Bible say about being in the world but not of it?

    https://biblereasons.com/not-of-this-world/

    So does that mean all Christians who choose to function “in the society,” but not be “of it,” are insane? Well, according to my former Holy Spirit blaspheming, child abuse covering up, Lutheran psychologist – and some of the Lutheran hospital employed, but likely not Christian, doctors I dealt with – all humans who believe in the Triune God are insane. Since the Triune God is not a material world or “science” provable entity.

    Well, I – or they – may be wrong on that. Since “science” – cymatics,” one of the types of physics, and “sacred geometry” – are all showing scientific and mathematical evidence that there is an “Intelligent Designer.”

    “Not sharing the common frame of orientation, they can be included within the societal population merely in a fictional sense.” Well, my psychiatrist who was miseducated by my former psychologist, when confronted with all the misinformation about me in my medical records, did eventually declare my entire life to be a “credible fictional story.”

    And we do need to define what “the common frame of orientation” is. Because it seems to me that “the common frame of orientation” of the “mental health” industries is belief only in “science” and the material world, and those industries’ worship of the money created out of nothing, by the fraud based globalist banksters’ Federal Reserve system.

    I could go on and on, but will stop soon. Great blog, Ekaterina.

    Most definitely, “We need to go back to analysing the environmental aspects of mental distress and include psychological and sociological perspectives next to the hegemony that psychiatry exercises. Or, if we decide that we should talk about ‘mental health’ in its general terms, then we should abandon diagnoses all together and look at manifestations of mental malaise as manifestations of societal malaise as such.”

    As one who had a hypocritical psychologist, who had totally bought into the psychiatric material world and “science” only believing DSM “bible” theology. She finally admitted to me, when I was picking up her medical records, that she also believed distress caused by 9/11/2001 – right after 9/11/2001 – was distress caused by “a chemical imbalance” in my brain alone. Who is the lunatic?

    Most definitely it’s way past time to stop blaming societal malaise, on “chemical imbalances” in individuals’ brains. Distressing events cause distress, dah. And I’m pretty certain it is illegal in the US for any so called “holistic Christian talk therapist” / psychologist, any psychiatrist, and any other doctor, to intentionally anticholinergic toxidrome poison any person, for belief in the Triune God.

    Yet anticholinergic toxidrome poisoning people is psychiatry’s recommended “gold standard protocol” for all “depressed,” “bipolar,” and “schizophrenia” (mis)diagnosed individuals.

  3. Hi Ekatarina, now rec’d Elena. And I wonder how culture shapes the investigation? For while attending the Little Rock Central High, ’67-’70, would play in the pit orchestra for a production of “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off”. The problem we begin to think is one of “being out of the community”, the beloved community, to experience a real social disassociation. But one is challenged to ask is there a break in the law or is a more truthful reality that law is fragmented. The currency of thinking creatively, to awaken to the edge and beyond, seemingly in my way of thinking and I suspect others, too, that those made arrogant in the acquisition of dollars, without ethics and can one say morals, seemingly are becoming more at risk. To pedal this stuff and the images that go with “corrupted powers” and the cries of discrimination (it does happen, even to us, as c/s/x) warrants an effort to file for office. To think one has to spend money, raise money is another question. Governance of public systems, the necessity to bring truths forward requires that we show, teach and share with others the steps necessary. I have not left this world nor the thinking about the matter of Matter or Nature, though the reality(s) sure can be strange when one decides to run for a political office. Are you leaving out the computer as part of the problem, the speed in which the tech transmits neural synapses firing? Across cultures? Creatively in a manner that raises questions about the issues? See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRyYPcicDcQ

  4. When I was very young, the word “health” had a positive connotation and was not being extensively used by corporate marketers for their own questionable purposes.

    Same with the phrase “mental health.” Per Google’s Ngram Viewer “mental health” did not exist as a phrase until the 1900s and did not start becoming popular until the 1950s (when I was born). Its usage peaked during the 1970s and has been at a median level since 1990.

    Then there is the expression “health insurance.” Oddly, the use of this term peaked during World War 2, up to the beginning of the Civil Rights era. I associate it, however, with “Obamacare.” The term “health care” did not take off until 1970.

    Today all these terms are apparently owned by Corporate Medicine. we get “health care” which is covered by “health insurance” and supposedly results in physical and “mental health.” Except it doesn’t. These marketers are taking us for a bunch of suckers, and a lot of us are indeed acting like a bunch of suckers.

    We don’t know what bodies really are or how they really function, so we really don’t know that much about body health. Same goes for the mind, except it’s much worse. So Corporate Medicine has taken advantage of these weaknesses to sell us a bill of goods about body health and particularly about mental health.

    I don’t want to trash the English language in order to rescue it from corporate marketers. I would prefer simply to insist that they are being dishonest and misleading in their use of these terms.

    “Mental health” in particular remains problematic, as there is a long history of people with something to hide and something to lose using “mental illness” as a way to get rid of their political enemies, even if they are close friends or family. It is less common to shoot a personal enemy to disable them, but it is a similar operation.

    I don’t believe that “environmental aspects of mental distress” are the most important issues in understanding real mental distress. But today (if not always) they are a much more important issue for society to deal with. That is because this issue reduces to a problem of criminal activity, which is the most basic problem that individuals, academics, societies, and governments have been troubled by and have been unable to deal with over long centuries of time.

    Ironically, criminal behavior does stem from mental illness. But I would be perfectly happy if that were the only mental illness we worried about and learned to treat successfully. The biggest problem facing the mental health community is the criminal behavior of practitioners and their accomplices. Until we can nail that one, why pretend we are helping people with mental health problems?

  5. I agree. We actually need to throw out the term ‘mental health’ along with ‘mental illness.’ This is an extract from the forthcoming 2nd edition of my book ‘A straight talking introduction to psychiatric diagnosis’:

    ‘We all have mental health’
    Until comparatively recently, it was assumed that only a minority of the population was ‘mentally ill’ and the rest of us were more or less ‘normal’, whatever that is. However, a very popular slogan is now being widely promoted by mental health charities, schools, celebrities and the media: ‘We all have mental health.’ Hailed as a way of reducing stigma, it encourages an ever-increasing number of us to admit to having ‘mental health issues’ and to talk about them openly.
    ….(but) the term ‘mental health’ is rapidly becoming a replacement for what we used to call, quite simply, our feelings. Once upon a time it was understood that we all went through periods of what we then described as feeling miserable, or frustrated, or anxious, or afraid; we all sometimes felt lonely, or inadequate, or unsure of ourselves; at times we worried that we were failing or different from our peers. Nowadays there is strong pressure to translate this whole complex range of emotional reactions into ‘I have mental health’ or ‘my mental health’. In doing so, we may be able to voice a need for support, which is useful. But at the same time, there is a risk of re-framing ordinary human responses, which arise for good reasons in our lives, into ‘mental health’ language that invites ‘mental health’ solutions. The causes of our distress may become obscured as we take on the identity of someone with ‘mental health problems’.
    This shift has happened extraordinarily rapidly. Whatever the relief it brings to some people, it also represents a massive expansion of medicalisation – lightly concealed behind an apparently benign slogan – into our lives. As we have seen, we no longer need to await an official diagnosis by a professional. Spend ten minutes on social media or Google and you will soon find that there is, in the words of a group that campaigns against psychiatric labelling, ‘a disorder for everyone’.4

    • I particularly find the possessive form, “My mental health” or “My depression” or “My diagnosis” a disturbing trend. As I said once, depression isn’t something you HAVE, it’s something you DO. And framing it that way means you can do something to change it. Whereas if it’s something I simply HAVE, then I no longer have agency, I’m stuck with it, as if my own decisions and beliefs and actions have no chance of altering my fate of having “mental health problems.” I don’t mean to blame anyone for feeling bad, but the idea that someone else is making all that happen and that someone else can “fix” it sells lots of drugs and keeps people dependent for life instead of teaching skills to regain control of our lives.

      • Agreed… Like “the new normal” or “my new normal.” And you are right in that all of this prevents one from learning skills that could improve their lives. There is probably nothing normal about life or should there be. One important point that psychiatry/psychology never got the memo on: There is no normal. If things were “normal” there would be no air to breathe, no water to drink, and nothing to eat. I am not sure of the statistics but the Earth as very abnormal because Earth sustains life, and it sustains life no matter what happens to it. “Normal” is a lie and we were sold a bill of goods by psychiatry, psychology that we could “return to normal” through drugs, therapy, etc. So, we need to each relax and accept our abnormality which is our unique individuality. When we do that, the world will eventually improve. Thank you.

    • We can walk away from the term “mental health,” but what are you going to call it when you are feeling happy, productive, intelligent, connected? We can shorten the concept to “healthy” but I don’t see any good purpose to abandoning the concept of “mental health” if we at the same time abandon the concept of being healthy.

      In general, and in the case of the mind in particular, health is basically a subjective perception of wellness, completeness, or happiness. In that sense, it cannot really be reduced to a set of factors that a test can measure and arrive at an objective answer about.

      But mental health is more than a feeling. The being, through its mind, does more than just feel. This is one of the limitations that psychology has sought to impose on us. The being, through the mind, can solve problems, imagine, carry on lengthy conversations, read books, study and learn new skills, and all sorts of other things besides feel. Mental health includes all those mental skills, just just feeling well.

      “Mental health” when viewed from the position of a technical-minded medical doctor is so limited compared to what it really is. I don’t think we need to abandon the term, I think we need to take it back and expand it to its full range of meanings.

  6. The concept of social deviancy, in this case, would imply that mental illness is abnormal with only a minority who are mentally ill and hence there is a normal majority who would maintain and enforce social norms. But one might question what has become normalized in this society. One might even go so far as to suspect that the vast majority of the American population — and maybe the global population as well — is mentally ill or otherwise has health issues involving neurocognition, nervous system, hormonal system, gut-brain axis, etc. How could it be otherwise? The mind is part of the body and it’s not as if Americans are all that physically healthy. One could argue our whole society is sickly, in every sense of that term.

    Toxicity rates and nutritional deficiencies are surprisingly still high, particularly in disadvantaged communities, but also in the general population. Even worse, some data shows that 88% of Americans are metabolically unfit with at least one and often multiple health conditions or diseases of metabolic syndrome: insulin resistance, type II diabetes, obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, non-fatty liver disease, etc. That isn’t including other possible metabolic diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s (AKA type III diabetes); nor does it include autoimmune disorders (multiple sclerosis, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, etc), often diet-related; not to mention the panopoly of other diseases, — many of them involving stress, inflammation, and/or mitochondrial dysfunction — that have been rising in modern industrial countries. On a related note, this is also seen with the numerous studies on rising inequality as strongly linked to a vast array of diseases.

    But, on a more basic level, all one has to do is look at some photographs of healthy hunter-gatherers or any other healthy traditional population, such as the photographs taken by Dr. Weston A. Price in the early 1900s, and then observe the bodies of Americans today — even those in well-off communities where nearly everyone has access to healthcare, supplements, gyms, parks, toxin-free environments, clean water, sick leave, vacations, and healthy food (or supposedly healthy food). What one will see is not only a lot of people who are obese, physically unfit, and lacking full musculature but also evidence of bone structure that is some combination of underdeveloped and maldeveloped. Look at all of the people who have thin bones, narrow faces, crowded teeth, underbites, overbites, or asymmetrical features, who are flatfooted, pigeon-toed, or otherwise look awkward in their own bodies. This is not normal.

    By the way, Dr. Weston A. Price didn’t only study physical health, although that was his main focus, as with his measurement of nutrient levels in population diets. He discovered vitamin K2, which he called ‘Activator X’. Besides the obvious signs of health, he also observed what he described as ‘moral health’. What he noticed was that physically health populations were also generally happy, friendly, kind, generous, helpful, forgiving, etc. The main difference he was able to determine is that these people were eating highly nutritious diets that included plenty of fat-soluble vitamins from animal foods (e.g., butter). Research since then has confirmed his theory and expanded upon it. Many aspects of diet and eating patterns (low-carb, portion control, fasting, etc) have proven to involve mechanisms (ketosis, autophagy, AMPK/mTOR regulation, anti-inflammation, etc) that profoundly improve numerous health conditions, physical and mental (metabolic diseases, mood disorders, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disorders, etc). The evidence is overwhelming at this point.

    • I was reminded of the nutritionist Mary Ruddick. She is one of the many people inspired by Dr. Price’s work. She followed his example by traveling around the world to study healthy traditional populations. She has seen the same pattern of closely tied physical health and mental health. Some of the populations she studied were African tribes, such as the Hadza and Pygmies. Most of them are slowly being introduced to modern society, such as education. She visited rural schools to talk to the teachers. She asked them about autism. The teachers knew what autism was and what were the typical behaviors associated with it. But when asked if they knew any cases of autism, they stated they had never seen it among their students. It does appear that rates of autism are increasing, not merely being diagnosed more.

      The same is seen with an entirely different condition like psychosis with worsening rates among young urbanites. So, it seems directly related to something about modern urbanized lifestyle, diet, or environment. If these rapidly growing mental health and neurocognitive conditions are social deviancy, then social deviancy is quickly becoming normalized. Put on top of that other debilitating and destructive neurocognitve conditions like Alzheimer’s that is also ever more being seen among the young, even though in the past it was known as an old person’s disease. So, what is going on? There is a public health epidemic going on, and it has long reached the level of crisis. Yet there is little public debate or political action in determining the obviously widespread and presumably systemic causes. This is definitely not a mere individual issue.

      Consider the dietary angle. In spite of all our increased knowledge, there has been little improvement in official dietary recommendations and most healthcare workers remain ignorant. Instead, all of the skyrocketing rates of physical and mental illness is simply more opportunity for profit. The healthcare professionals, hospitals, insurance companies, and drug companies are all getting their share of the big money rolling in. The increased healthcare spending means increased profitability, even as some predict it might bankrupt our society in the coming decades. Meanwhile, many activists and reformers respond with talk of neurodiversity. So, autism, psychosis, Alzheimer’s, and on and on — all of that is neurodiversity? Well, if that’s the case, then there has been a vastly growing amount of neurodiversity in the population.

      None of this normalization of the abnormal, in any direction, is helpful. Yet it appears that some simple measures could have massive impact. Change dietary guidelines, teach healthcare workers about the actual research on diet and nutrition, and do more and better testing on nutritional deficiencies. Definitely test for toxins as well, clean up the toxins, and increase environmental regulations. But also eliminate high inequality and the endless problems that go with it. Other things could be added. We know many of the solutions to the problems. Now we just need to work on building the public knowledge, public debate, and public demand that will make possible the political will to make reforms happen.

    • Although diet is important, in my opinion, it is drugs, especially the mind-altering drugs like psychiatric drugs and also the opiates and the psychedelic drugs, including marijuana that are having the most profound negative effect on our society. Sadly, I think, in some places, these drugs are now in our water, ground water systems, and even the soil and are affecting people of all ages in adverse ways. These drugs affect our brains and our metabolic systems. I would ascribe the rise in metabolic diseases to the drugs. We could probably withstand the ill effects of our diet if so, much of our population was not so drugged. Sometimes, I think we use dietary issues like junk food as causes for our problems when the real problem rests with these mind-altering drugs. I am not saying that one should live on a diet of junk food, but I would say, in my opinion, that the drugs will most probably d o more damage than any junk food. Until we become a culture that no longer sees that little pill as the answer to everything we will suffer. And, I say this, because before the advent of prozac in the late 1980’s that many of the health problems you list became nearly “epidemic.” Thank you.

      • There is no doubt that increased chemical load of all sorts is contributing to problems. It’s not only psychiatric and other medications. There are also an increase of chemicals used for agriculture, food additives, packaging, fire retardants, cleaning, technology, etc. Heavy metal toxicity rates are a bit more mixed. Mercury keeps accumulating in the environment, but we have gotten better in regulating lead pollution. Yet many poor communities still have high rates of lead toxicity from old pain, old pipes, and old industrial sites. Even asbestos is associated with lower IQ and, in some poor communities, there are still public schools with asbestos. One could also note the greater use of antibiotics, hand sanitizers, water plants, and hygienic production of food that has saved lives, even as it has also decimated the good microbes that are associated with health, including mental health and neurocognitive health.

        About medical and recreational drugs, those have existed for centuries. During the uptick of trade during the late Middle Ages to early Modernity, there was the introduction and popularization in the West of a wide variety of drugs: opium, cocaine, tobacco, tea, coffee, etc. Corresponding to the increase of uppers and downers, there appears to have been a simultaneous decreased use of psychedelics or, if you prefer, entheogens. A number of scholars discuss the once widespread use of entheogens in religion and across diverse cultures going back millennia (e.g., hunter-gatherers often use psychedelics not only for ritual practice, but including giving them to their dogs to make their senses acute for hunting), with some speculating that psychedelics played a role in the evolution of the human mind and language. When looking at Christian and Christmas iconography from centuries ago, it’s not uncommon to come across images of psilocybin mushrooms (check out the history of Christmas symbolism that involves psilocybin mushrooms that grow under evergreen trees, eaten by reindeer, and used by Siberian shamans; the later likely being the source of much of the Santa Claus mythology).

        After hops began being used as a modern preservative in commercially made beers, the mildly psychedelic herbs were used less and less in beers, along with ergot in grains being better controlled; not to mention tea and coffee ever more replacing alcohol. Mentioned by the historian Owen Davies, there is a funny account published in 1850 about ‘nappy’ (strong) ales that likely were hallucinogenic: “How do you account,” said a north country minister of the last age (the late Rev. Mr. M’Bean, of Alves,) to a sagacious old elder of his session, “for the almost total disappearance of the ghosts and fairies that used to be common in your young days?” “Tak’ my word for’t, minister,” replied the old man, “it’s a’ owing to the tea; whan the tea cam’ in, ghaists an’ fairies gaed out. Weel do I mind whan at a’ our neebourly meetings — bridals, christenings, lyke-wakes, an’ the like — we entertained ane anither wi’ rich nappy ale; an’ when the verra dowiest o’ us used to get warm i’ the face, an’ a little confused i’ the head, an’ weel fit to see amaist onything when on the muirs on yer way hame. But the tea has put out the nappy; an’ I have remarked that by losing the nappy we lost baith ghaists and fairies.”

        What is particularly amusing is the thought that supernatural experiences of ghosts and fairies declined with the modern mind being overtaken with mental illness. If one is familiar with the work of Julian Jaynes, the significance of this neurocognitive shift is immense. “The tea pots full of warm water,” as Samuel Tissot put in his 1768 An Essay on Diseases Incident to Literary and Sedentary Persons, “I see upon their tables, put me in mind of Pandora’s box, from whence all sorts of evils issue forth, with this difference however, that they do not even leave the hopes of relief behind them; but, on the contrary, by inducing hypochondriac complaints, diffuse melancholy and despair.” Also, particularly in the 1800s, doctors started using a growing variety of drugs, from natural sources and man-made. But also a wide variety of drugs became available in any local store, and so what followed was the appearance of high rates of drug addiction to opium and cocaine. Some of the late 19th century and early 20th century doctors that treated and wrote about ‘neurasthenia’ also saw drug addiction as related. As you probably know, cocaine was in the original recipe of Coca-Cola. It was also a common over-the-counter medication for nerves, exhaustion, headaches, and about anything that ailed you.

        All of this was going on during a period of widescale change. The enclosure movement began in the 1300s and, with feudalism being replaced by capitalism, privatization of the commons was promoted strongly by the government in the 1700s. This suddenly created millions of landless peasants flooding into cities every year, but the movement toward urbanization actually began much earlier during feudalism when the aristocracy and a emerging bourgeois ownership class began spending less time in feudal villages and more time in the capitol and other larger cities. Barbara Ehrenreich, in Dancing in the Streets, notes that writings from the time described new worries about melancholia along with related issues of mental and moral health, specifically among this urbanized elite (spread of literacy likely played a major role, as described by Joseph Henrich, Marshall McLuhan, and others). Many of the modern diseases, from diabetes to nervous disorders, first appeared among the upper classes and ‘brain workers’; which were those exposed the most to industrial chemicals, a modern diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and much else.

        Among various things, the early changes during the Middle Ages did lead to an obsession with diet, specifically according to the Christianization of ancient Greek Galenic humoralism (Ken Albala & Trudy Eden, Food and Faith in Christian Culture). It was understood that food had a powerful effect on mentality, mood, and behavior. The earliest colonial trade was bringing commercial goods mostly for the wealthy, such as sugar which was not only expensive but also often controlled as a drug and only sold in drug stores, as it was considered to be highly addictive (the reason that the wealthy kept it under lock and key). Besides sugar, trade also brought a higher carb diet in general with more access to potatoes, rice, corn, etc. Improved agriculture was simultaneously increasing production. The first reliable surplus yields of wheat in the West didn’t happen until the early 1800s. Combined with industrial milling, for the first time in the Western world, wheat and particularly white flour was available to the average person, instead of being limited to the upper classes. That began the modern love affair with white bread.

        Of course, mass urbanization had been going on in Britain and much of Europe for more than a century at that point, if it wouldn’t happen as dramatically in the US until later. That came with early industrialization and hence industrial chemicals, such as lead used in printing presses, hat production, and elsewhere (e.g., mad as a hatter) — Benjamin Franklin, working in printing, warned against lead toxicity and wouldn’t use heated lead type. By the way, the first mass lead toxicity began in the late 1800s with the commercialization of lead paint, initially used on barns; and this corresponded with a rise of rural violent crime, as later happened with lead toxicity and a spike of urban crime from the late 1960s to late 1980s (it takes a 20 year lag time for violent crime to go back down after environmental regulations because it impacts early child development with the worst consequences happening when individuals reach adulthood).

        During early modernity, it also was becoming more common to use food additives, such as all kinds of substances being added to bread to make it even cheaper; and that led to lot of problems during the Victorian Age in a then unregulated food industry where many people were getting sick. Interestingly, that was also the first period of a Western public health crisis that went along with the tuberculosis epidemic (some of the main treatments for tuberculosis included animal foods and sunshine, both of which raise vitamin D3 levels that is important for immune functioning). During some war in the late 1800s, the British government found that a large number of draftees were too malnourished and sickly to serve. That same thing happened later in the US when American men were drafted in WWII and it was found many simply weren’t healthy enough to serve, which is why there was such a post-war push for nutritionally-fortified foods, school lunch programs, etc.

        This isn’t only speculation in hindsight. Many at the time wrote about the rising levels of disease, physical and mental, from the 1700s to 1800s. This was particularly seen in the words of doctors, but also found in texts of missionaries, explorers, etc who compared health between ‘civilized’ and ‘primitive’ people. This is where there came an awareness of the ‘diseases of civilization’. Prior to the American Revolution, there was already moral panics about mental health that included concerns of depression and suicide, such as the fears projected onto the new Romance genre novels (e.g., Werther effect from young people obsessively reading novels like The Sorrows of Young Werther, even with their heads stuck in books as they walked down the street; basically, the exact same fear-mongering one hears today about smart phones).

        There was also a lot of talk about nervous conditions and diseases (“A multitude of Regency terms like “flutterings,” “fidgets,” “agitations,” “vexations,” and, above all, “nerves” are the historical equivalents to what we would now recognize as physiological stress.” Bryan Kozlowski, The Jane Austen Diet, p. 231); along with the appearance of ‘nostalgia’ as a disease with physical symptoms (e.g., brain inflammation; see: Michael S. Roth, Memory, Trauma, and History; David Lowenthal, The Past Is a Foreign Country; Thomas Dodman, What Nostalgia Was; Susan J. Matt, Homesickness; Linda Marilyn Austin, Nostalgia in Transition, 1780-1917; Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia; Gary S. Meltzer, Euripides and the Poetics of Nostalgia). More pedestrian diseases were also observably worsening, far from limited to a prevalence of obesity. The need to treat diabetes became important for doctors, including the first keto diet used for this purpose in the 1790s. Even more serious diseases, such as cancer, were coming to attention; but also ever more concern about mental illness.

        In 1726, Jonathan Swift wrote, “Besides real diseases we are subject to many that are only imaginary, for which the physicians have invented imaginary cures; these have then several names, and so have the drugs that are proper to them.” In 1809, Jonathan Haslam wrote, “The alarming increase in Insanity, as might naturally be expected, has incited many persons to an investigation of this disease.” And in 1843, the physician Stanislas Tanchou wrote, “Cancer, like insanity, seems to increase with the progress of civilization” (intriguingly, Tanchou did a statistical analysis that correlated the rate of grain consumption with the rate of cancer). In 1843, Edward Jarvis wrote, “It cannot be denied that civilization, in its progress, is rife with causes which over-excite individuals, and result in the loss of mental equilibrium.” In 1871, Dr. Silas Mitchell Weir wrote, “Have we lived too fast?” And in 1877, Henry Maudsley wrote, “It is clear that if it goes on with the same ruthless speed for the next half century . . . the sane people will be in a minority at no very distant day.” Then, near the end of that century in 1899, Archibald Church and Frederick Peterson wrote, “The proportion of the insane to normal individuals may be stated to be about 1 to 300 of the population, though this proportion varies somewhat within narrow limits among different races and countries. It is probable that the intemperate use of alcohol and drugs, the spreading of syphilis, and the overstimulation in many directions of modern civilization have determined an increase difficult to estimate, but nevertheless palpable, of insanity in the present century as compared with past centuries.”

        The observation of and often moral panic about health epidemics, specifically mental health epidemics, goes back centuries (Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, & Society of Individuals; Bruce Mazlish, Civilization and Its Contents; Keith Thomas, In Pursuit of Civility; Stephen Mennell, The American Civilizing Process; Cas Wouters, Informalization; Jonathan Fletcher, Violence and Civilization; François Dépelteau & ‎T. Landini, Norbert Elias and Social Theory; Rob Watts, States of Violence and the Civilising Process; Pieter Spierenburg, Violence and Punishment; Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature; Eric Dunning & Chris Rojek, Sport and Leisure in the Civilizing Process; D. E. Thiery, Polluting the Sacred; Helmut Kuzmics, Roland Axtmann, Authority, State and National Character; Mary Fulbrook, Un-Civilizing Processes?; John Zerzan, Against Civilization; Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization; Dennis Smith, Norbert Elias and Modern Social Theory; Stejpan Mestrovic, The Barbarian Temperament; Thomas Salumets, Norbert Elias and Human Interdependencies). By the late 1800s, among the upper classes, there was an obsession with the nervous disorder called ‘neurasthenia’, which interestingly often was treated similarly as tuberculosis by strengthening the body with animal foods (i.e., fat-soluble vitamins).

        As civilization became complex, so did the human mind in having to adapt to it and sometimes that hit a breaking point in individuals; or else what was previously considered normal behavior was now judged unacceptable, the latter explanation favored by Michel Foucault and Thomas Szasz (also see Bruce Levine’s article, Societies With Little Coercion Have Little Mental Illness). Whatever the explanation, something that once was severely abnormal had become normalized and, as it happened with insidious gradualism, few noticed and would accept what had changed “Living amid an ongoing epidemic that nobody notices is surreal. It is like viewing a mighty river that has risen slowly over two centuries, imperceptibly claiming the surrounding land, millimeter by millimeter. . . . Humans adapt remarkably well to a disaster as long as the disaster occurs over a long period of time” (E. Fuller Torrey & Judy Miller, Invisible Plague; also see Torrey’s Schizophrenia and Civilization); “At the end of the seventeenth century, insanity was of little significance and was little discussed. At the end of the eighteenth century, it was perceived as probably increasing and was of some concern. At the end of the nineteenth century, it was perceived as an epidemic and was a major concern. And at the end of the twentieth century, insanity was simply accepted as part of the fabric of life. It is a remarkable history.”

        All of the changes were mostly happening over generations and centuries, which left little if any living memory from when the changes began. Many thinkers like Torrey and Miller would be useful for fleshing this out, but here is a small sampling of authors and their books: Harold D. Foster’s What Really Causes Schizophrenia, Andrew Scull’s Madness in Civilization, Alain Ehrenberg’s Weariness of the Self, etc; and I shouldn’t ignore the growing field of Jaynesian scholarship such as found in the books put out by the Julian Jaynes Society. Besides social stress and societal complexity, there was much else that was changing. For example, increasing concentrated urbanization and close proximity with other species meant ever more spread of infectious diseases and parasites (consider toxoplasma gondii from domesticated cats; see E. Fuller Torrey’s Beasts of Earth). Also, as already mentioned, the 18th century saw the beginnings of industrialization with the related rise of toxins (Dan Olmsted & Mark Blaxill, The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-Made Epidemic). That worsened over the following century and, in many ways, continues to worsen.

          • Thanks for the compliment. And I’ll consider submitting it, although I feel little motivation to do so. I have a feeling it would draw a lot of criticism because such a large view is bound to step on many people’s toes. My analysis challenges the take of most people on all sides of such debates, from the conventional healthcare practitioners to the standard healthcare reformers (e.g., one is likely to wind a lot of people up merely by calling sugar an addictive drug). As you might suspect, I’ve written about this before. Much of the text I posted here was lifted from my own Marmalade blog on WordPress.

            I have a number of posts along these lines: “The Crisis of Identity”, “The Disease of Nostalgia”, “Autism and the Upper Crust”, “The Agricultural Mind”, “Diets and Systems”, “The Drugged Up Birth of Modernity”, “Yes, tea banished the fairies.”, etc. It relates to other posts about how history repeats: “Technological Fears and Media Panics”, “Rate of Moral Panic”, etc. I also have a number of posts on the work of Johann Hari (addiction), Kevin Drum (lead toxicity), and others focused on what influences us. It’s a fascinating area of study, at least to my curious mind. But I find myself feeling less and less drawn to putting my views out there because of all the weirdness (mental illness?) on the internet.

          • By the way, there is only one point where my own view diverges strongly from that of rebel. I think it’s problematic to lump all ‘drugs’ together, partly because the modern concept of ‘drugs’ is so vague. Every substance (plant, mineral, nutrient, supplement, pharmaceutical, industrial chemical, etc) that has a physiological effect could be labeled as a ‘drug’. That really doesn’t tell us anything about the specific effects of specific substances or what differentiates between them.

            Even limiting ourselves to the conventional notion of ‘drugs’ doesn’t help all that much. There is a vast difference between psychedelics on the one hand and the uppers and downers on the other. That is one of the main issues I bring up, particularly in a historical context. When one reads about the past in comparison to the present, what stands out is the rise of addictive drugs (not only the hard drugs but also nicotine, caffeine, and sugar) in how they’ve largely replaced what are variously called psychedelics, hallucinogens, and entheogens.

            What stands out about the latter is that they are non-addictive, which is true even of the artificially produced psychedelics. One could take LSD, a derivative of ergot, one day but it would have no effect if one took it the next day. Also, there is no addictive craving and compulsion to immediately take it again. In fact, some psychedelics like Ayahuasca are well known as being anti-addictive, in that they can reverse addiction to other substances as if it somehow resets the body-mind. This is easy to understand for anyone who has used psychedelics, but near impossible to explain to those without such experience.

          • On a note of personal curiosity, I must admit that I really find fascinating the historical texts, such as what I quoted from above where the mental health epidemic was observed as early as the 18th century. I love using Google Books to explore old texts that are in the public domain. It’s particularly intriguing when one comes across statements from centuries ago that remain true to this day. We think of so many of our problems as ‘modern’, by which we typically mean the world of the past century. But most of the concerns we have now aren’t fundamentally different than the concerns going back quite early in Western history, with much of the framing and concerns of our ‘modern’ thought having originated in the Axial Age of more than two millennia ago.

            Consider that egalitarianism was one of the main teachings of the Axial Age prophets, if it took a long time to take hold in terms of political movements and ideologies. That can be seen with how ‘modern’ class identity and class war, including proto-communism, began at least as early as the 17th century English Civil War and maybe earlier with the radically egalitarian message of the 14th century English Peasants’ Revolt. Or consider that the culture war and moral panic about women in the workplace, sexual promiscuity, abortions, white population decline, etc didn’t suddenly appear in the 1960s but was strongly heard in the decades prior to the American Civil War (e.g., 1 in 5 pregnancies were aborted during that period). That is the core of my message. If we don’t fully and comprehensively know our own history, we will continue to repeat it as was done so many times before. Since we don’t understand and appreciate the underlying issues, they are never resolved and instead keep getting worse.

      • You are right to put such things into a societal context. The point you make is correct but limited in scope, in being limited to recent history. My argument is simply that what is required is an even larger societal context. Also, it’s not either/or but both/and. Besides, the line between diet and drugs can be thin, as many substances in both categories come from plants, such how anything with carbs (grains, potatoes, sugar, honey, dairy, etc) can be fermented into alcohol, something humans discovered long before civilization (some animals like elephants seem to stash fruit on purpose to let it ferment before eating it).

        Then you have such things as ergot that commonly grew on wheat in the past; not to mention the wide variety of psychoactive herbs, some mild and others powerful, that were infused into alcohol, cooked into foods, or otherwise imbibed often with meals. And we can’t forget that mushrooms can be either food or drugs, some psychedelic but others medicinal. I mentioned that reindeer will eat psilocybin mushrooms and will leap about, possibly the origins of Santa’s flying reindeer. A wide variety of animals consume various plants, mushrooms, and other substances for various purposes, far from being limited to mere health. It seems to be an evolved trait of many species. The word ‘drug’ is a later verbal concept that humans invented.

        Heck, it’s not even only BOTH diet AND drugs, but also a slew of factors over the past few centuries: mass urbanization and industrialization, toxins and a diversity of chemicals (e.g., hormone mimics and disruptors), stress from rising inequality, and no doubt much else could be added. Even something as simple as literacy rates and a literary culture may have a more profound impact human neurocognition than we usually recognize, maybe even contributing to mental health issues. Or else there is the breakdown of traditional rural communities and kin networks, something that has started centuries before the modern era. Humans have been using ‘drugs’ for millennia, including such things as marijuana, without any apparent harm; and yet drug problems have become serious. Johann Hari argues that addiction has less to do with the drugs themselves than with the changes in society that have isolated people.

        • You say many interesting things the history of mental illness, etc. However, one point to be made about these modern drugs, especially the psychiatric drugs is that they are made not of natural ingredients but of chemical lab-created synthetic ingredients. In fact, daily we experiment with all kinds of “things” that show we are trying to be god or god-like. This can only be our downfall. We can only attest to the story of the Fall of Tower of Babylon in the Bible. We are not meant to be gods. We are meant to be mere mortals, mere humans. God creates us not we create God or each other. And God creates each one of us individually and gives each unique talents or gifts. Our purpose is to use those God-given talents or gifts not to serve ourselves but to serve God. In fact, we cannot serve each other until we serve God first. All else is pure rubbish. We suffer because we desire to wish to forget this basic undeniable truth. it. And my question is “How many times do we need to get kicked out of the Garden of Eden to finally remember this?” Thank you.

      • There is one simple reason I emphasize diet, nutrition, and eating patterns (e.g., intermittent fasting). Besides the scientific evidence showing its importance, there is a more basic level to the human experience of food. Eating and fasting are things we do on a daily basis, and so we have much individual control of this area of life. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that is right at the base of issues to be dealt with.

        It’s true that we also control what drugs we put into our body, at least most of us do. Children, the elderly, and the institutionalized, of course, often have less control in making decisions for themselves. Then again, most of us never made decisions about how and what we eat, as it is simply what we learned as children and absorbed from the culture around us.

        Part of my intention is to bring awareness to what is potentially within our control. But that isn’t necessarily to argue that it’s the only important factors. If I was forced to only change one single factor, it probably actually wouldn’t be diet. Instead, it would be to vastly improve environmental conditions, not only toxins but ensuring everyone in the world has access to clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, clean soil to grow food in; along with access to nature, green spaces, etc that are part of thriving ecosystems and a healthy biosphere.

        That is being a bit ambitious, though. We need to start with baby steps. Dietary changes are something that are easy to do on a personal level and offer one massive bang for the bucks. Also, improving metabolic health reverberates through every area of health, including helping one to more effectively eliminate toxins from one’s body. It’s a practical step to take and one that most people underestimate. That is based on not only the science but my own experience. Using very low-carb diets, I was able to make much of my ‘depression’ go away, although decades of depressive habits still linger.

        Anyway, it’s not as if I have any doubt that you are fully correct about how much we modern Westerners are impacted by drugs of all sorts. I take that very seriously. I’ve chosen to avoid most drugs, pharmaceutical and recreational. I even gave up caffeine last year and don’t plan on ever going back. Having been a sugar addict for most of my life, I also consider sugar to be a drug to be avoided. But even many beneficial supplements are basically ‘drugs’ and I do take supplements.

        The other component you bring up is that drugs get into the water supply. That relates to the issue of numerous chemicals, toxic and otherwise, that likewise get into the water, air, and soil. We are surrounded by chemicals. That goes to my environmental concern and that most definitely would include cleaning up the secondary exposure of drugs, in the way we so obsessively eliminated secondhand smoke in public spaces.

        That would be a great societal project, but unfortunately it is one that we individually have little control over, other than for those who can afford to buy high quality bottled water or buy an expensive and highly effective water filtration system. Then again, to the degree we do have control of it, I’d see it as part of my dietary focus. Water, after all, is part of the diet. We need water for drinking and cooking. Indeed, it’s part of my own dietary practices to mostly avoid water that isn’t either filtered or from a spring source.

    • The problem is: The mind is NOT part of the body.

      What we see in our experience is our very close emotional connection with our body and its experiences of hunger, lust, activity, inactivity, getting poisoned, dying, etc. Many of us doubt that much of anything else is going on mentally but of course more is. We have dreaming, imagination, study, education, training, work, problem solving. Those are all mental (one could say spiritual) activities, some of which are very emotional and others much less so.

      In this modern poisoned world we are all exposed to toxins on a daily basis and suffer mentally and physically as a result of this. This could lead one to conclude that we all suffer from “mental illness” but this would be a correct conclusion based on incorrect assumptions. The fact is, we have all been exposed to certain “mental toxicities” that have created a baseline of mental distress in society that we accept as “normal.” One can be attacked as “deviant” from either being much more troubled by these mental attacks, or much less troubled by them. In a similar way, the truly physically well, now a minority among us, are seen as worthy of special study because they are so unusual. Of course, their physical health tends to support a more healthy mental attitude as well.

      The distinction between mind and body is often mentioned in these discussions, but remains an uncertainty for most people. As they are so closely connected in human experience, this is understandable, but regrettable. It results in endless circular conversations about how better body health can result in better mental health. Though this is a real relationship in human experience, it is technically incorrect. And that technical distinction blinds most of us from making any real progress in the field of mental health. I know of no certain way of clarifying this for others; they either come to realize or or they can’t.

      • I don’t see a contradiction between the mind being part of the body and the possibility of the mind being more than the body. The mind is also part of the larger society and culture, along with part of our immersion in the world. One can even include a spiritual component of mind and I’m fine with that. Most people have an extremely narrow understanding of mind, as they do embodiment.

        I’m critical of the ego theory of the mind. Instead, I prefer a broader understanding from the social sciences, specifically that of the bundle theory of mind (e.g., animism and bicameralism) and 4E cognition (embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended). You might notice that 4E cognition includes the mind as embodied, i.e., as part of the body; but not limited to a narrow sense of embodiment.

        That is because our embodiment is within and inseparable from a larger world. All of experiential reality is embodied, in that it has form. Take hunter-gatherers who often have a sense of ‘personal space’ and identity that includes not only the tribe but extends into the sensed perceptual field of the world immediately around them.

        I honestly don’t see how any meaningful Cartesian divide can be made between a disembodied mind and a mindless embodied world. That seems like false consciousness to me. But I suspect your ‘technical distinction’ is referring to something else entirely. Maybe you could clarify your position, as we likely aren’t really or entirely disagreeing. Were my own clarifications in this comment are helpful? My previous comments were simply pointing to the links between body and mind, not offering it up as any metaphysical claims upon all of reality and human experience.

        • I am not relying here on mere theory or what seems most logical or consistent. We are looking for ways we can help people feel more free and happy. To the extent that this is a mental problem, we need a mental solution. If we insist that the mind is part of the body, we don’t get that solution.

          Workable mental therapies have only been developed by those who were willing to entertain the possibility that the mind is separable from the body. And that is because this is the more workable assumption, and is also more likely to be more true or actual. We see this phenomenon in near death experiences and are, perhaps, amused. But if we are only amused we have neglected the full ramifications of what this means to human life, thought, and psychology.

          A being can leave its body, see that body on the operating table (or wherever) and notice what the doctors are doing to it, what the nurses are doing and remember this experience as brilliantly or more so than they remember fully awake experiences. The mind, we find, is a separable energetic structure that can function and has function without a body, though much of it is indeed devoted to operating the body. When we treat the mind as an energetic structure that the being (patient) can learn to look at and handle, we get techniques which make people factually more able, happier, and so forth.

          So we should at least be discussing this on the theory level.

  7. ““Mental Health” Is a Euphemism for Policing Social Deviance”
    I would say not deviance. Let us be quite frank we live one of the safest countries (west) in the world. I know safety and stability are relative terms but we are MUCH better off than MOST of the population in the world.
    So there is no much deviance here than anywhere else BUT what mental health is policing instincts, policing against freedom of the individual (just in case individual sees the real economic differences and unfairness, and injustice of our minority).

    If you come outside of this culture and look at it with fresh eyes, you will see the whole mental health system is engineering of societal toward busyness, materialist (it is one of the biggest businesses), focus on feelings and gratification (even though it is put as if delaying gratification), and avoid real impacts of life (politics, culture, thinking of others).

    So IMHO, the system is increase silo and internalize empathy, almost commercialize empathy and unfortunately this creates the deviance that is being avoided.

  8. I have commented on this article before. Although it is well-written with excellent research that would probably, please most professors, I respectfully disagree with the whole concept that “mental health is a euphemism for policing social deviance.” On the surface, what we see is people who are supposedly “mentally ill” getting drugged and therapized and ending up as patients or even inmates in prisons or mental institutions. This is just the surface, the outward, the appearances. And when you bring the alleged concept of “mental health” into the picture, it can very well be seen, in my opinion, that the “mental health/mental illness” is actually a replacement for traditional religions. It is a way, possibly along with the “new age concepts” to lure vulnerable individuals away from traditional religions. If there is a new religion for the twenty-first century, this is it or they want you to think it is. Sadly, it has infiltrated many traditional Christian denominations and other major traditional religions. There is much to unpack here, but don’t be deceived. If you are a believer in the Christian faith, these are the “idols” the Bible warned you about. I cannot speak for other religions, because unfortunately my knowledge is not so great, but I am sure there are similarities. But I think if you consider psychiatry and psychology, etc. as a religion or cult, you might think twice before associating yourself with it and might suggest to your friends, family and even your enemies to stay far away from this evil. Thank you.

  9. Honestly, I am not sure if the “psychedelics” are truly “addictive” in the strict sense of the word. I do question, if in some cases, the brain/body does not eventually crave them or if they are used to a certain degree, they actually become a part of the body. When I came off the psychiatric drugs, someone said to me to beware because your brain/body thinks they are supposed to be there—maybe like a specific food. Or maybe, these drugs just become a part of you. Traditionally, “addiction” has meant that there is an intense craving for more and more of that drug or perhaps any activity. But then we use “addiction” so loosely now—I am addicted to shopping or reading Jane Austen or what not. As far as all drugs being bad, I don’t entirely subscribe to that idea, but I do think people rely too much on drugs of all types and need to question if the drug is the best remedy for their condition. And it is a shameful tragedy that many medical doctors blame the patient for this (when they visit a doctor, they expect a prescription for a drug) when it is they who nearly brain washed us o believe that drugs are the answer to everything. I just believe for a “healthy” society we need to promote more ways than just drugs to solve all the problems. One of the things we need to seriously promote is the uniqueness of the individual and the uniqueness of each person’s gifts as gifted to them by God. Thank you.

  10. Mental health IS a euphemism for policing social deviance! I’m glad that someone sees what is happening. What is the solution? Well, I will tell you what it isn’t. The solution, that is. It isn’t more mistreatment masquerading as “treatment”.

    Trick or Treatment? Hmmm. Sometimes it’s awfully hard to tell the difference.

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