Monday, December 9, 2019

Comments by Milan Röhricht

Showing 9 of 9 comments.

  • “So how would you define a “mental illness,”? How would you distinguish it from “normal suffering?”

    This is an ancient question which many have tried and largely failed to answer, both personally and collectively. For this reason I can’t give you a universal definition, only my own understanding of this temporary condition.

    In an important book for the psychiatric reform movement in Germany from the 70’s, ‘Irren ist menschlich’ (which can’t really be translated, but ‘Mad to be normal’ comes close, and that’s probably where they took the Laing film title from), the authors offer this definition:

    “A mentally ill human is a human who, in attempting to solve an age-appropriate task, gets stuck at a dead end. This result we call illness, affront, disturbance, suffering, deviation. It is a universally humane possibility; that means it is, for all of us under certain inner or outer circumstances, a means of expressing that a situation ‘can’t go on like this’. Hence this possibility is internally accessible and fundamentally known to us all.”

    I think they’re onto something with this. And importantly, it addresses the notion of external abuse and oppression which you highlight: Why is it an ‘illness’ if the circumstances are oppressive? Why is it an ‘illness’ if the cause is man-made?

    The ‘illness’ is the personal reaction expressing that a situation can’t go on like this. And regardless the cause, this is not primarily an expression on a societal, or communal, or even familial level, but deeply personal: I can’t go on like this. It is the personal suffering, taken as a prerequisite for any definition of mental illness, that comes to light.

    To ensure change, I think it is helpful to name this temporary condition. Sure, we can then argue about which term is best used, but first we need to agree on the phenomena we are trying to elucidate, and I think ‘mental illness’ goes a long way in enabling such a common language.

  • “People need to be disabused of the idea that there ever has been anything like ~mental illness~”

    If this is the outgoing position from which you base your arguments then I think we have reached an irreconcilable point in our discussion. From all conceivable points in my imagination and experiences so far, both personal and professional, I disagree with you.

    Sure, I can’t offer you any kind of proof to support this, and I understand that all of my own beliefs and consequent arguments are anchored within explanatory models that remain just that: models, always falling short of an absolute truth. And so while I’m in so way sure that I won’t turn out to be wrong, and will always try to remain open to this possibility, I can only argue based on my own conceptions of humanity, and hence every discussion on the institutional, or philosophical, or political backdrop of mental healthcare in which I engage takes the acceptance of mental illness as a tenable phenomenon for granted.

    With this in mind, I don’t think there’s any point in a continuing discussion, which now appears devoid of a common language.

  • For several reasons I don’t agree with the ‘hard line stance’ you outline. That doesn’t mean I don’t agree with some of your arguments (although frankly I’m not really sure I understand some of them), but they lead me to different conclusions.

    At the end you write: “political involvement is always the replacement for the therapist’s couch”. The essence of a political struggle into which mental healthcare is embedded shouldn’t be overlooked in any reform, however radical it may be, where a common ethic, or morality, or notion of humanism is at the forefront of our aims and actions — this, I completely agree with you, should always be what necessitates change. And I agree that a greater emphasis on the social nature of mental suffering would surely diminish much unnecessary, perhaps even harmful treatment.

    Anchoring our discussion to this shared premise, I can respect the fact that you personally disagree with any deviation from the ‘hard line stance’: no drugs, psychotherapy, or recovery programs. But how can you be so sure that this stance applies for everyone else, too? How do you know there aren’t people who actually profit from precisely these therapies? The use of drugs is a good example: if I have a stomach ache I can take a PPI, if I have a headache paracetamol. Likewise if I can’t leave the house as I’m too anxious or depressed, the voices return or sleep just won’t come — there are medications which can help to alleviate certain symptoms in the short term. These are not usually long-term solutions, and we shouldn’t pretend that they are, but they are tools which enable a sustainable change. To be opposed to drugs no matter what is, in my opinion, not just counter-productive, but ignorant as to what it means to be necessarily embodied, and science’s progress and insights into many aspects of this basic fact.

    More fundamentally — and now forgetting for a brief moment everything institutional, medical, and political — I think your argument of abolishing the mental health system forgets the one aspect of mental health treatment which we should never forget: the fact that it is built upon a basic human need of discussing emotional hardships with others. You may argue that we need not institutionalise this need. But I think that disregards the reach of an institution, especially one which is governmentally supported and especially when considering the astounding forms of isolation which society generates.

  • “I am not averse to the mental health system, I am 100% opposed to it.”

    What do you propose in its stead? And I mean this question completely sincerely, for I think we do share a common notion of rejection of the status quo, and I am open to the necessity of radical, institutional change

  • You wrote:

    “Foucault is the one who recognised the problems with this and best explained them first.

    “Personal Responsibility” is just pedagogy, lecturing to people as though they were children. Must show no tolerance towards this.”

    I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing. What I mean by ‘personal responsibility’ is very different to how you are describing it. This is a nice illustration of what I mean, taken from an article by Camille Robcis (who is currently writing a book on Institutional Psychotherapy), where the idea of ‘personal responsibility’ can be substituted for ‘holding someone accountable’:

    “According to Tosquelles, [Hermann] Simon’s greatest contribution was to change the attitudes of doctors and nurses vis-à-vis the patients. Work was not simply a distraction for the patients and it certainly was not a “moral treatment”. Rather, work was a way to hold the patients accountable: “holding the patients accountable for Simon meant trusting them and trusting the existence of a general law of all living beings, a ‘logos’ that regulated and ordered everything.” This general law was not a morality, Tosquelles insisted, but more like an ethics, a way of life. As Tosquelles put it, “the point was not to ‘make patients work’ to alleviate this or that symptom but to make the patients and the staff work to cure the institution.” It is this ethical — and fundamentally social — understanding of psychiatry that Tosquelles brought to Saint-Alban and that was particularly influential for thinkers such as Jean Oury and Félix Guattari.”

    And then Robcis’ footnote (35) at the end of this quote is interesting:

    “It is in this sense that Michel Foucault referred to Anti-Oedipus as “a book of ethics, the first book of ethics to be written in France in quite a long time.” (Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia)”

  • You raise some interesting points and objections, but I see things very differently.

    With regard to your more general aversion towards those working within the mental health system — the ‘enforcing arm of the state’, the ‘licensed officer of the state’, those who ‘want you to accept abuse and injustice’ — I think you are making it too easy for yourself by asserting a simple good vs. bad generalisation.

    Picking up on your metaphor: it seems you are judging a person’s stance on the notion of slavery according to a certain category, and not their belief. As ants are enslaving bees, all ants must be of the belief that slavery is, ultimately, beneficial. It matters not to you whether the individual ant in question shares that view, or if, in fact, the polar opposite is true — what you are saying is: if an individual is an ant, then they must be in favour of slavery. Nothing else is conceivable.

    The same thus applies for the mental health system: your aversion seems to run so deep that it is inconceivable for an ‘enforcing arm of the state’ not to ‘want you to accept abuse and injustice’. I don’t agree with this.

    And another thought: where does Foucault fit into this? As a trained psychotherapist, was he, too, not thereby a ‘licenced officer of the state’? Or Tosquelles, Oury, Lacan, Basaglia, even Cooper, Laing and Huber?

    With regard to the more specific notion of personal responsibility, I completely agree with your emphasis on the problematic status quo, perhaps a neoliberal tendency, of reducing the causality of individual suffering to a personal responsibility — what you call a ‘self-reliance ethic’. This diminishes the impact of political and structural conditions which are as relevant for mental health as anything else.

    But, and I think this is the point at which we diverge, I don’t think the argument should be made as an either / or situation: the political and structural conditions must be addressed whilst simultaneously accepting a personal responsibility inherent to each human being.

    And that leads back to suicide: the discussion of suicide in this essay has not been specific to mental health. I have tried to argue for the individual right to self-determination — even if an individual wants to use this right to end their life — regardless what the reason is.

  • This was taken at a cemetery in San Francisco, where the photographer met a group of film-makers trying out their new drone. He spent several hours with them and took this picture, amongst many others. So far as he remembers neither the cemetery as a personification of death nor death as such were the focus of the time spent there, and nor was any motion of mental illness. The reason I chose this picture is a personal association I made when seeing it, an emotional response which, in my opinion, builds nicely upon the thoughts discussed in this essay

  • Not sure I follow your point. Imagine the opposite — if psychiatric professionals didn’t propagate the advantage of continued life, then surely suicide would be even more common?

    And the torturous path you mention: are you not disposing the responsibility of each individual, who often seeks psychiatric help and not the other way round?