Many people live under the glib assumption that mental illness is a subject that the experts have got a good handle on. These experts, through the wisdom gleaned from decades of studying human behaviour in a myriad of contexts, have made a clear distinction between mentally ill and mentally healthy behaviours and thoughts, and can apply this accurately in a clinical setting. We are told that this distinction is objective and scientific, but the reality is that who is crazy and who isn’t depends more on fashion – and who is in power – than on science.
Take the example of homosexuality. Sexual attraction to people of the same gender was considered a mental illness as recently as the second edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. By this, it was meant that same-sex attraction was a mental defect that could be diagnosed and, if need be, treated. Some would say that we’ve evolved past such a mentality, and this author would not disagree, but with a caveat: we could easily make homosexuality illegal again.
All it would take would be a strong cultural shift towards a family-oriented kind of folk conservatism, and for it once again to be fashionable to be against homosexuals, and the herd could easily come to take it for granted once again that homosexuality should be illegal. If a popular celebrity made arguments against homosexuality on national television, the masses would soon be turned against it. Some arguments against homosexuality are perennial, and will inevitably become fashionable again, like the appeal to naturalism.
The appeal to naturalism is a common argument against homosexuality. It contends that, because both a male and a female are necessary for an act of sexual intercourse to have any chance of resulting in reproduction, only this arrangement of sexes is natural. Two people of the same sex engaging in sexual intercourse cannot produce a child and is therefore unnatural, and this is therefore immoral, in the same way that having sex with animals or the pre-pubescent cannot produce children and is therefore immoral.
One could fairly argue that there are a number of fallacies in this line of reasoning, but that’s not the point. The point is that, as long as the appeal to naturalism holds some sway among people, there is a chance that it could become fashionable again such that the masses came to accept it as obvious. If one looks at the world, and at the history of it, it’s apparent that homosexuality, like feminism and the use of certain drugs, is a fashion that waxes and wanes according to historical cycles.
The same thing is true of other conditions now considered to be mental illnesses. The case of schizophrenia is another example of where politics trumps medicine. No-one knows what schizophrenia and psychosis really are: psychosis is said to be the loss of touch with reality, but there is no universal, objective way of knowing what reality is. What is commonly accepted as reality is something that varies greatly from place to place and from time to time, even among people who are all committed to the scientific method.
No-one really understands why some people are crazy, but if a person doesn’t work, they need a doctor to declare them mentally unhealthy if they want to go on welfare. Sounds straightforward, but if an incoming conservative government wants to trim the number of people on welfare for psychiatric reasons by 10%, then the psychiatrists will select the 10% of their current patients that they feel have the best chance of making it and declare them to be mentally healthy. That they are the same as before doesn’t matter – the important thing is that the politics have changed.
For political reasons, all responsibility and blame for a person suffering a mental illness has to be shifted back onto either genetics or the person themselves. The environment is seldom to blame, but if it ever is, it is the fault of the parents and the home environment, never the fault of the rulers and the social environment. Depression is never caused by society being depressing. Anxiety is never caused by society being anxiogenic. What causes mental illness is bad genes, doing drugs or some kind of quasi-mystical spiritual failure, but never the misarrangement of society.
Some will say that mental illness demonstrates a failure to adapt to society. Fair enough, but the problem with this is that society is grossly unhealthy. For many tens of millions of people, the pressure of trying to fit into a society as fucked up as this one has pushed them beyond the limits of their psychological endurance. Their major problem is that society does not, and never will, recognise the part that it has played in making people mentally ill, because this would be a political error. This obstinance only serves to drive more people insane.
At the end of the day, it’s politicians that that people take orders from, and not research psychologists, and so doctors who have to deal with mental illness have to use the framework laid down for them by politicians. These politicians have not been able to resist the temptation to play around with the definitions of mental illness for the sake of achieving their political goals. Unfortunately, this meddling has become so severe that the concept of mental illness is now more political than it is medical.
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