Systemic Insanity


Editor’s Note: This article, written by Julia X, was first published on our affiliate site, Mad in Sweden.

What is a human being? To understand mental illness, we first need to understand what a person really is.¬†But we do, you might be thinking now. Science has a pretty good grasp of how the body and brain work, right?¬†Psychologists help people who feel bad and doctors prescribe medicine for broken brains with a lack of one or another neurotransmitter. We have treatment programs for addicts and psychiatric clinics for the depressed.¬†That’s good right?

Absolutely, all of that is great for those who are helped. Far from all of them will be, however.

Besides, wouldn’t it be better if people didn’t have to feel bad to begin with?

Mental illness is usually caused by something happening.¬†We didn’t go and get imbalanced neurotransmitters all of a sudden for no reason.¬†We didn’t start feeling bad for no reason.¬†The body is a system and something upset our systems so that they no longer function the same way they did before.¬†The question is what and the answer is individual.

There are as many causes of mental illness as there are people, because each person has their own unique biology and unique destiny and way of dealing with life.

Some live through a traumatic childhood. Some get too little love, others are met with too much anger. Someone grows up with the constant stress of poverty hanging over them, another is bullied at school, a third experiences trauma in adulthood. There are many different ways for a person to break down, and we live in a society that is in many ways destructive and downright anti-human, thus putting obstacles in the way of genuine healing taking place at all.

Prescribing anti-depressant medication to people who feel bad is standard treatment today, maybe a little therapy too, so that we learn better ways to deal with life. The question is though, is the answer to numb ourselves and learn to deal with lives that we don’t feel good about? Shouldn’t the solution be to heal and live lives that don’t make us stressed, unhappy, and sick?

In today’s individualistic capitalist society, the collective has ceased to offer support and community. At the same time, capitalism uses people as impersonal cogs in a soulless machine, often for no other purpose than financial gain. People are living more and more alone and isolated, stressing about jobs they find pointless but need to survive and, with the money they earn from it, they buy things they don’t really need. Consumption to feel some kind of kick, some spark, something that lights up life.

In this stressed, isolated, and meaningless state that more and more people find themselves in, is it any wonder that people feel bad?

The brain may be controlled by neurotransmitters, but neurotransmitters are affected by the life you live. Chronic stress increases the amount of some neurotransmitters and decreases the amount of others. The brain and the rest of the body end up out of balance when too much of the resources are spent on dealing with a stressful life situation. We are born with a certain DNA but epigenetics shows that genes turn on and off in conjunction with the environment we live in. The body is adaptable and does what it can to survive so that it changes your DNA if it deems that change is more favorable to your survival than your original state.

The body does not care whether you are happy or not. It cares about sheer survival. If you live in a stressful environment, your body perceives it as danger and will do everything it can to get you through your life circumstances, no matter how counterproductive it is for your actual quality of life. The stress does not even have to be from the environment itself, but can just as easily come at least partly from poor diet, too little exercise, lack of social contact. Everything bad that gets too much and everything good that gets too little creates an imbalance and mental or physical ill health arises. So no, it’s not our neurotransmitters that are wrong. We are part of a larger system which in many ways is bad for people to live in so the focus should not be on how we cure individuals but how we change the system.

The strange thing is that psychiatry today seems to lack systems thinking regarding how each individual is part of a larger system.

Psychologists may work from such an approach, but psychiatry in general does not; there the focus is not fundamentally on curing but on mitigating symptoms and making people productive citizens of society. Capitalist society is not based on happiness but on productivity, and psychiatry is part of this system, not least because of the pharmaceutical companies’ great influence over research.

You could call it corruption if you were of the zealous sort.

Unfortunately, today’s society is so crooked that it is not even seen as strange that powerful interests control the very research that shows that precisely what they make money from seems to be the most effective remedy for the suffering the system they are a part of caused.

So where do we start when the problem is so complex? When the whole society is dysfunctional?

First and foremost with information.¬†By reading and educating ourselves as much as we can about how both people and society work.¬†You can’t change what you don’t understand, so first we have to understand.¬†We have to understand ourselves, other people and the world in as many ways as possible and through that understanding we can change our lives in different ways and show that there are alternatives.¬†Other ways of being, other ways of living, other ways of looking at the world.

We can be the examples.

We can learn to deal with our difficulties in ways that suit us and we can live our lives as empathic individuals who take care of ourselves and others from a holistic perspective. Not according to templates and rules in a dysfunctional system that leads to more disease and unhappiness.

How do we change society? How do we make the world a better place? How do we help people achieve their true potential, as happy, not just productive?

By the fact that when we have reached a point where we have come far enough in our own journeys, we share our experiences as best we can with anyone who wants to listen. Those of us who have somehow reached a point in life where we actually started to feel better have a unique perspective on life worth listening to. We can tell you about what made us sick and we can tell you how we got better again and no research beats a lifetime of living examples.

All new thoughts are regarded as madness to begin with and perhaps it is we who have already worn the label “crazy” who have to bring forward new ideas about psychiatry.¬†Who else?

We’ve been part of the psychiatric system and experienced its dysfunction up close, so who better to speak on the subject than us?

“Be the change you want to see in the world” goes a famous quote. We need to be that change by actively sharing all our collective knowledge and our collective life experiences and we need to reach as many people as possible.

Change is possible and it starts with you, us, here and now.


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


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  1. We are not meant to live painless lives.

    Pain of approximation, of trying to make a connection, to try to live happy lives will always be there. The pain of betrayal comes with the risk of belonging. The pain of failure comes with the hope for sucess…

    We are more than the sum of our biology, more than our communities, our knwoledge, hopes, dreams, even more than our joy, each and everyone of us is more than that. That is my point, pain is part of who we are and what we are trying to achieve for ourselves.

    Struggle is too, learning to read, to write, to speak, to walk, to fall, to cry, to love, to miss, to dance, to long for…

    Too long for…

    If any cause can cause anything nothing causes something. It just happens…

    The causality of suffering is not there there, it’s the explanations that abound, not the causes.

    Focusing on the causes of the incaused is irrational. All we have, all we always had were explanations, not reasons. The force of reason is absent when many or all causes are used to explain any outcome, all? outcomes. The emptyness of achieving ALL might still be there…

    Even then, how irrational is the rationality of suffering imposed by violence of sentient, smart, emotional caring beings on anothers?.

    Will my future porkchop see me with sympathy at my cravings?.

    I am a strict vegetarian in case you are wondering. Not for spiritual/ethical reasons, but for medical ones…

    Oh, and we are not controlled by our neurotramsmitters, we can be pushed, pull and driven, but many times, we are not forced to drink false explanations. To do wrong on another, including paradoxically ourselves…

    We are free to choose what to believe, what to say and, within boundaries how to live.

    For me, no porkchops. For some, no pills…

    Our bodies do not care about survival, not even evolution or nature cares for that. Death on earth is as exhuberant as life itlsef. That is a balance that will always add to zero…

    Our bodies care about reproduction, the survival of the next generation, even after our personal reproduction is gone.

    So it is for social animals, such as humans. Octopuses could not care less: they perish after reproduction, as many other species do. That form of trascendence probably is absent in octopuses…

    “The strange thing is that psychiatry today seems to lack systems thinking regarding how each individual is part of a larger system.” as octopuses, they don’t lack that, they don’t care. There are no gatherings of social octopuses…

    Capitalism is not based on productivity, is based on profit, on return on investment. If we all put one kidney to good future profit, no one would work… productivity or not…

    There are no crooked societies as there are no dysfunctional societies. There are incentives, markets, choices, values and preferences. Gravity is still a thing…

    Seing society as something with it’s own will and interest, is oblivious to the fact that it is an emerging property of a collection of the interactions of humans. Society in that sense can’t fall too far away than it’s members make it so.

    “We can only push society THAT far…” or in that direction…

    “How do we change society? How do we make the world a better place? How do we help people achieve their true potential, as happy, not just productive?”: with the incentives, the sticks and the carrots… that’s how societies evolve and function. Unless one is trying to destroy it…

    I would not call my hangover, a severe one, a dysfunction of my body, it is doing what is supposed to do under such circumstances. ūüôā

    I was made to have hangovers, severe ones at that. Claiming me and society are colluding in making me hungover misses the point: If I do that, then this is happening… that is causality, not explanation. And it does not make me and/or society dysfunctional in that narrow sense.

    “…no research beats a lifetime of living examples.” yes, and no. The succesfull mother of 14 children is not better at delivering babies than the aggregate of obstetricians. Corruption and all…

    Great piece by the way.


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  2. As a poorly enriching personal insight from the aggregate of my, till now, whole life:

    I derived more joy and happiness, and probably brought more on a living creature by helping a puppy, a kitten, a cat, a dog, even a bird, elusive and all, to achieve something desired not in his or her grasp, than probably in all my positive interactions with humans beings…

    And I am a former medical practitioner…

    So, maybe, as a proposal with potential: help another to achieve something good for them not within their reach, one being at a time…

    That, for me, at least filled me, and still does with gratitude. And it obviates the sometimes false expectations of human beings, their, our, ideology and beliefs. Our human and admittedly mortal constraints, as all other beings have them…

    The low hanging fruit probably exists for a reason. The smile of a kid is easier to achieve, and it will last you longer, than the accomplishments of ANY politician…

    One at at time, without distinctions, without conditions, and without expectations… what could go wrong with that?.

    Just the pleasure of seeing things as they are… one action at a time.

    One more thing to be gratefull for…

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  3. “…no research beats a lifetime of living examples.”

    Truer words were never spoken. So here’s my living example: Seeking emotional support from people who wrongly insist on wearing a crown (paid or not) never worked for me.

    And here’s a note for the “pros”: Authenticity always beats artifice.

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    • We don’t know how the universe came into being.
      We don’t know how life emerged from inanimate stuff.
      We don’t know how complex forms of life emerged from simple organisms.
      We don’t know if there is a purpose in the existence of life.
      We don’t know what happens when we experience death.
      We don’t know if the universe will have an end.
      We cannot know the contents of anyone else’s mind.
      Therefore we cannot describe mental illness in any meaningful way because it is unique to each individual.
      There is so little that we can know for sure. These facts are a great leveller.
      Be suspicious of anyone claiming to have an answer to any of the above.

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  4. The juxtaposition of therapy (psychiatry etc) and societal mental illness can be understood as follows: In interpersonal dynamics, power often manifests through control. Consider a scenario where one person assumes a position of power by articulating their thoughts while the other, through silence, either validates, approves, or dismisses/ignores. If the speaker perceives validation and approval, a power dynamic emerges, with the speaker becoming subordinate to the validating and approving party. This dynamic persists as the silencer seeks to understand the speaker’s every thought to maintain or manipulate the power balance. This system is attractive because we are told speech is free, but we never talk about the speech‚Äôs target or purpose! It is too complex to explain this point, but the target is often embodiment! Speech without target does not exist. It is like if a tree falls, does anyone hear it? Unfortunately, the body is medicalized now so cannot reason anymore. The body is in pain!

    While this description is somewhat simplistic on complex topics, it functions effectively in the context of adult interactions. Conversely, if the speaker senses initial disregard, their defenses are triggered, potentially leading to a power struggle. In such cases, the prevailing party is often determined by legal or material advantages of the day or all out war of the roses!

    In the realm of therapy, analogous power dynamics are implicit. The client speaks, and the therapist listens. If the client refrains from speaking, it constitutes resistance, prompting the therapist to assert more influence to steer the interaction. When therapist leads, it is a sign of power struggle or exerting influence. When the client leads, it is a sign of passive influence by the therapist ‚Äď either way, it is double-bind because it was never designed to be equal endeavor! The client and the therapist cannot switch roles. Similar in society where psychiatrists are given similar power, they will never admit as a whole (individual rogue aside). Of course a benevolent system can exist but this one was not set up as such!

    These dynamics are mirrored in the context of mental illness. Individuals labeled as “mentally ill” have become cognizant of being monitored and controlled through shared spaces due to technology such as MIA. Subsequently, the established power structure, represented by increased medication and diagnoses, exerts pressure on them. My concern is that, with time, the mere expression of thoughts spoken may be pathologized, akin to the current concept of cancel culture, possibly leading to its legal prohibition or extreme punishments in the future. I am probably evoking Orwellian here, but the speaker cannot stop and observe ‚Äď that is the power! The observer is silent to move the needle accordingly through coercion of economic means ‚Äď losing your job or reputation ‚Äď you are crazy!
    Solution, IDK.

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