Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mental health issues - again!

What is it with this (mental “health”) subject, this “condition” that so confuses people? First off, let’s be clear on this, it is NOT an illness, as in measles, or diabetes which have well defined pathological markers and have well documented developmental stages and certain, scientifically proven medical cures or control measures. Mental health, on the other hand, has been closely examined for over 100 years and yet the questions relating to the various “conditions” described in the psychological and psychiatric “Bible” – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual version IV (DSM IV) produced by the American Psychological Association (APA) are no nearer being answered. Why or how some people suffer from “mental health problems” is unknown.

To me an illness is something defined, medically, by the affect it has on the human body – high temperature, skin eruptions and possible damage to organs leading to their possible failure and such like. This scientific knowledge allows physicians to specifically treat the condition presented and to either prevent it occurring in the first place (preventative medicine) or to either cure it (measles) or control it (diabetes). Thus an illness is something people HAVE – a medical, pathological condition. There is no known pathological test for mental health that will determine whether a person is depressed, schizophrenic or bi-polar (some mental health issues may be the result of the after affects of excessive drug or alcohol intake). There is no proven genetic component. Furthermore no one knows exactly how or why certain pharmaceutical drugs seem to have a beneficial effect.

Anything affecting a person’s mind, on the other hand, may result in behaviour not generally considered as normal. Again, referring to the DSM IV this altered behaviour, observed by others, checked against certain criteria listed in the DSM IV determines if a person is “diagnosed” as depressed, schizophrenic, bi-polar or whatever. Thus there is nothing objectively “scientific” about any “diagnosis”. Any “diagnosis” is subjective and based on the opinion of the observer (however well trained they may be). Then there is the claim that some “mental illnesses” may be genetic in origin (ie schizophrenia) but this is a long way from being proven. Anyway even if genes are involved genes are not “self emergent” – they are “switches” that need to be turned “on” or “off”. In other words they do not operate on their own accord. They need a “trigger” to operate – always something in the environment.

If the environment is the culprit this would mean that something witnessed or experienced by the sufferer has affected them to such an extent that they now view the world from a different perspective. Does this make them “sick”? It has been admirably stated by others that, “If you talk to God you are praying. If God talks to you, you are schizophrenic.” A “mental illness” may affect a person’s behaviour - something that they DO. How can anyone, except the person concerned, determine if such behaviour is “wrong” or “abnormal”? Anyway there is no known, universally accepted, definition of “normal” – what is “normal” for me may not necessarily be “normal for you. Is it not conceivable that certain behaviour be just considered as eccentric?

Consider Moses (Exodus 3.2) - he heard the voice of the Lord coming from a burning bush but no one thinks that is odd. Now if I presented myself to a hospital and said that I heard the voice of the Lord coming from a burning bush I know that I would be considered mentally ill and most probably medicated to calm me down!! Surely there are enough “odd-ball” and eccentric people in the broader community to allow for the odd extremes without hospitalising and forcing pharmaceutical drugs on them against their will?

Why must we (and I include myself in this “we’ as I am part of the Australian society) force our views on what “we” consider to be right or wrong on to others who may hold quite valid but different views?

If (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics) one in four people in Australia either has suffered, is suffering or will suffer from a mental “illness” (as defined by DSM IV) then surely there is something dramatically wrong with the way we currently live our lives? Just read any daily news paper, or tune in to any radio or TV news programme and all you read or hear about is Man’s inhumanity to Man – the cruelty, the injustice, the manifest unkindness, general lack of consideration and want of compassion is quite extraordinary. All this is bound to affect people in one way or another. Is it not possible that people who are diagnosed as “mentally ill” are just trying to adjust to a way of life that appals them, that may be too much for them to accept and they are just trying to escape to a “safe” place? Medicating such people to the point of stupefaction is no answer and certainly not the correct solution. Nor is incarcerating them in mental institutions.

To conclude maybe I should, once again, repeat the words of the Indian sage Krishnamurti who once said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”.

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