What I think of mental illness, by Pihla

Today is World Eating Disorders Day, so I thought, best write today if write I shall. I thought I would tackle the modest topic of this title, what is mental illness IMO. All of this blog is In My Opinion, but I thought I should especially highlight it now as I may present controversial opinions in the following (or I may not, see, I always just write whatever comes to my mind and all my opinions on this topic are yet to come to mind, so who knows what they’ll turn out like).

I would define mental illness as a state of irrationality. Not having the normal amount of sense contained in one’s mind. Having irrational beliefs, thoughts, behaviours. Of course, a fine example of mental illness is a malnutrition -induced psychotic state (whether you name it anorexia, ednos, bulimia, whatever name you want to put on this – I prefer no names and no labels). In this state one has lost sense due to one’s brain not getting enough energy to keep one’s senses intact and so, a person loses their marbles…all over the universe they scatter.

I think, for example, some instances of depression are similar – one has lost their appetite due to perhaps some stressful event in their life and suddenly, due to not getting enough energy for their mind to work through their troubles, they enter a state of irrationality. They may start having strong feelings of paranoia, lack of self-worth, anxiety, without these symptoms having explanation in the goings-on of their daily life.

So ‘no explanation’. Here, I guess, the controversial bit. I would not call mental illness any instance of anxiety, depression, or other ‘mental symptom’, if it has an explanation in the real world. If I am feeling blue because I hate my job and cannot change its conditions to make it better, ain’t no amount of diagnosis or drugs gonna fix me. The problem is not me, it is my situation. Similarly, if a loved one passes, I may be depressed, because I am grieving. Again, no amount of antidepressant is going to fix that. I must grieve and sometimes that takes time. Do I need a diagnosis of depression straight away? Maybe not!

And so we arrive at what I think of psychiatry. I am not anti-psychiatry, but I have reservations. Too many states that have a natural explanation are medicalized and treated as disorder. Then, some people start re-producing illness in themselves when given a diagnosis, even if their behaviour wasn’t irrational in the first place, but a fairly understandable reaction to events in their universe. We live in a society of the Individual and this has meant that we have shifted responsibility from the society to the individual – in health and in happiness. The individual is the problem, and they should fix themselves. Even if the society is the sick one here.

The problem in talking like this, is of course being labelled as someone with a tin foil hat firmly glued to their head – a nut in other words. But as someone who has many diagnoses of nut-hood, I have little to lose. I talk about this because I never wanted to have any labels, any illnesses. Due to malnutrition I had severe irrationality and a totally legit case of mental illness. My mind was broken as I did not feed it. But I notice all around me people who have been given many diagnoses, many labels. They interpret most of their behaviour as signs of illness. Behaviour that to me sounds like normal responses to certain situations. Behaviour I would not call disordered.

I am reading a book called ‘Cracked: Why psychiatry is doing more harm than good’ by Dr James Davies. It is not an anti-psychiatry tin foil hat book, which is why I am reading it. It is written by a Dr of medical and social anthropology who is also a psychotherapist. In his book (admittedly I am not far along in it yet) he examines critically, among other things, the field of therapy, and this I find refreshing. Calling bullshit on yourself essentially is the sign of a mature adult. Admitting to problems and mistakes, discussing ways of improving things – that’s the goal!

In this book, Davies for example notes that in 1952 there were 106 different diagnoses for mental disorders but in 2013 there were 374. Did the humans of this world become significantly crazier during those decades or what happened? My opinion, which I will again state, as this is my blog, is that normal behaviour has been over-medicalized and instead of individuals becoming crazier, the structures (society?) that over-medicalize are the crazies here. Enter a psych clinic and you immediately become ill is a joke that’s often made, and I guess, should be taken quite literally.

Something I often like to say to my nearest and dearest, or anyone I am in contact with: ‘Let’s not make this into a problem’. I refuse to make myself into a problem and I wish to suggest that approach to others too. As long as whatever you are doing is not hurting you or others significantly (a small amount of anxiety, depression or other negative feels is a normal component of being human!), it’s probably cool. I notice that I currently live in a society that is prone to seeing a problem in too many things. I do not like it or subscribe to it. My life is a happier place when I do not think of myself as troubled, disordered or problematic. I feel reasonably at peace. Sometimes I angst. That’s cool. A natural consequence of living life, being human.

I have no other conclusion to this post than to say: happy World Eating Disorders Day! Let’s feed our minds (like, literally: food is medicine!) so we have the energy to work through any problem that comes our way. Let’s help those who are still in battle and let’s raise awareness. And let’s, really let’s, let everyone be their most wonderful unique selves, fully and freely.

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