Is Mental Illness Really A Myth?
Let me begin by saying, I apologize if anyone was disappointed with the “Simple Intelligence Test” yesterday. It was never intended to leave the Jones Town laboratory. (It was kind of an inside joke, and a mistake was made). Sorry.
If you have no idea what in the Hell I’m talking about or you liked said test then pay no attention.
Earlier today. I was reading an article by a “Skeptic” (to borrow a word used by our friend Reasic) Richard E. Vatz, who not only questions the validity of ADD but the validity of Psychiatry and Psychology as a whole. (I put several links at the bottom of the post if you want to read a little bit more about the man and his mentor Thomas Szasz).
Richard Vantz is a leading voice in what is coined the “Anti-Psychiatry Movement”, and is best known, at least from what I read, for arguing against “Insanity Pleas”. His assertion, and that of Thomas Szasz, is that Psychiatry is a “pseudo-science” and that “Mental Illness is a Myth”.
He argues that what we call “Mental Illness” is essentially nothing more than “bad behavior”, and that because the brain is a “Construct” and not an “Organ” it cannot be diseased. In other words, the mind is “Ethereal” existing outside the parameters of what we call the “World” and it cannot be affected in the same way the heart or kidneys can. (Very Meta-Physical stuff).
Vatz goes so far as to say that Schizophrenia is not a mental illness. Instead, to paraphrase, it’s a “unique form of individual expression”. Vatz and Szasz believe that by placing “labels” etc on people who we deem to be “Mentally Ill”, we are in effect “stifling” them and their “individuality”. They remind me of myself when I was younger.
One of my best friends was an Iroquois and we often spoke about how Schizophrenics would be “Shaman” in a Native American tribe, but in our culture they’re considered “sick”. In hindsight, I realize that my friend’s philosophy may have been motivated by the fact he was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia, and he didn’t want it to be true.
Vatz idealizes “Mental Illness” implying that those who suffer from it would be fine if society didn’t place a “stigma” on them. And this is where I began moving beyond disagreeing with him, and into the realm of being angry.
Anyone who has ever worked with, lived with, or who suffers from Mental Illness knows without a Modicum of doubt Mental Illness has little to do with “Societal Stigmas”. I accept that people may be treated differently or discriminated against if others know about their Mental Illness, and that’s unfortunate. But the leap Vatz makes is ludicrous (again paraphrasing), “The labeling doesn’t just hurt people, it’s the only reason the ‘Disease’ even exists.”
Vatz suggests that through simple behavior modification people can unlearn Schizophrenia etc. Fantastical stuff. I mean top notch other than the fact that’s it’s utter Bullshit.
Vatz goes on to roll out the tried and true arguments “Skeptics” of all forms of science use. (Global Warming, Evolution etc). In the case of ADD for example, “Many of the behaviors outlined in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) could apply to anyone. It’s too vague and therefore, invalid.” His implication is that ADD is “Normal” behavior and everyone acts that way.
It is true that if you were perusing the DSM IV and began reading the descriptions of certain Mental Illnesses you’d inevitably stumble upon one or two that made you say, “Hey I do that. I must be Histrionic or Bi-Polar.” And if that’s all Psychologists and Psychiatrists used as criteria then you’d be correct.
Fortunately, people are not diagnosed from the DSM IV. It simply serves as a manual, hence the title “Manual”. Like a Chilton’s Manual for a car the DSM IV offers a frame of reference, “Does patient X exhibit these behaviors? If so, start here.”
Would you take your car apart if you knew you could get a Manual to help you figure out the problem, even if it was based on “Stereotypical” indicators? If you’re an idiot you might go ahead and disassemble your car because “stereotyping” is flat out wrong. But I imagine most people would consult the Manual even though it’s criteria was “Stereotypical” or “Vague”. It’s better than taking the engine apart only to find out you have a dead battery.
This argument in and of itself shows the man is all Smoke and Mirrors. Vatz has a Ph.d and he knows that’s not how the Manual is used. Of course he provides anecdotal evidence of a “Conspiracy” between Psychiatrists, Psychologists and the Drug Companies. Yet, he can provide no concrete proof of said conspiracy. (Several Drug companies have been investigated and sued based on such allegations and no conspiracy was uncovered. Maybe the government, judges and juries were in on it as well).
Let me finish off this aspect of his argument by saying; Yes, if you looked at the DSM IV without any other reference you could easily diagnose yourself with ADD or Munchausen by Proxy because everyone acts that way Sometimes, but only “Sometimes”. People with ADD are like that “All or most of the time”. (The same applies to every other diagnosis).
Vatz goes on to say that there is no “concrete evidence of Mental Illness”. We can’t pinpoint it the way we can a tumor or heart damage and that’s means it’s not there. Again quite a leap. (Until recently we couldn’t “pinpoint” Black holes either, but it turns out they are there, we just needed the technology and a little luck to find one).
This is the same argument used by Global Warming Skeptics, “the science isn’t 100% so we can dismiss it.” But just like Global Warming, Mental Illnesses involve so many variables there may never be a time when we’re 100%. And Vatz knows this. It’s ingenious in a way. “I refuse to believe what you’re saying unless you can prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt and because I know you can’t I’m right and you’re wrong.”
It’s all about creating doubt in the Civil Court we call society. In Civil Court, you don’t need a “Reasonable” doubt, all you need is “Just Enough” or a “Semblance” of doubt. In other words, Vatz isn’t burdened with “Proving” his case, which he knows he can’t. I mean talk about “Theoretical”. His philosophy is based solely on abstract concepts that by their very nature are “unprovable”. It’s like “Proving” the existence of a “Soul”. Anyway I digress.
Vatz only has to make it appear that Psychiatry is “Questionable”. It’s “Too Vague”, “They can’t Prove ADD Exists in the Brain”, “Everyone feels better on Adderall”, “A lot of People are Mis-diagnosed”, “There are Psychiatrists who agree with me” and then to ice his cake he evokes the Spectre of the Corporation, “Drug companies are behind this, they only want your $$”. On and on.
*Side note. I was unable to find anything in his writing where Vatz addressed the things we do “know” about the brain. (Maybe he does, but I didn’t see it) For example, the brain is regulated by chemical reactions and electrical impulses. If the mind is outside the scope of this world how could it be influenced by chemicals and electricity?
“New Agers” like Vatz are entertaining. His articles are well written and when taken at face value seem reasonable. The problem with him, and Global Warming skeptics etc is the danger they pose if their “Intellectual Meanderings” are ever taken seriously by the Scientific Community, and more importantly by Society.
Many people with Mental Illnesses refuse to get help, until forced, as it is. The last thing we need is people thinking, “Oh it’s fine I hear voices telling me to kill myself. That’s normal for people like me.” or “Sure I haven’t eaten or slept in 4 days, but Hey I’m just ‘Expressing’ myself.” Or “Yes, I’m disappointed you got fired for the fifth time this year, but you know what? As long as you’re being you, that’s all that matters. Just keep trying to not be that way the best you can.”
It’s nice to think my friend with Paranoid Schizophrenia was only miserable because of the labels placed on him by Psychiatrists and Psychologists. Unfortunately, I know this is not the case.
Psychiatrists didn’t seek him out, he had to seek them out when the voices started telling him awful things and his relationships slowly disintegrated because he scared the shit out of people with the things he’d say and do.
Maybe he just needed to be tougher, and work harder on not having voices or at least he could work on having nicer ones.
So much twaddle.
(Here are a couple of links. There are numerous articles written by both men, and I encourage anyone who’s interested to decide for themselves).