Friday, March 22, 2013

Skeptics and "mental illness"

I hope we can get to a real discussion of these issues, but my experience leads me to doubt it. Greta Christina has a response to a commenter (I was reading the thread and…well, I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was following the conversation).

If the commenter wasn’t a troll, they were suggesting that GC’s response to her experience could affect its path. This could be obnoxiously voluntarist or merely a recognition that our responses to our mental states can have effects. The person might be suggesting that maybe a protracted climbing inside our subjective experience might not itself be the most productive response to distress. If so, I’d agree with that. But the commenter's motives and remarks aren't especially relevant.

GC’s response:

Dear Commenter,

I know you mean well, and I’ll try to take your comment in that spirit. But if you have no personal experience with mental illness, aren’t a trained professional in the field of mental illness,

The "trained professionals" of today are acting in the service of corporations and models with no scientific validity. There’s no such thing as “mental illness” in the sense of a brain disease. The idea that this distress is the same as diabetes is incorrect. It’s false. You should demand that the person prescribing you drugs explain and defend the scientific basis for it to your satisfaction as a skeptic.

and by your own acknowledgement don’t have any evidence to support the opinions you’re expressing about mental illness, please don’t give advice to mentally ill people on how to manage their illness.

It’s not an illness in the sense you think. You similarly lack evidence.

Writing publicly about my depression has been extremely helpful. It helps me process it and make sense of it. It helps alleviate the sense of shame I’ve been made to feel about it. It helps me normalize it, and frame it as simply another illness, like my cancer or the time I had pneumonia — which also helps alleviate the shame.

This is demonstrably false. Conceiving of psychological/emotional distress as a physical illness is stigmatizing (in addition to being false).

The fact that my writing about it helps others gives meaning to it, which makes it more tolerable.

It makes it tolerable to understand it, to give meaning to it in some way (as would any, including a religious, meaning). But the way you understand it is false and stigmatizing. It’s not the only way to understand or give meaning to your experiences, and it prevents other, productive understandings.

And when I write about my depression, I often get good suggestions and ideas on how to manage my depression from other people who experience it.

And they’ve been similarly influenced by the corporate culture of psychiatry.

When you have a voice in your head saying “I shouldn’t comment,” I urge you to listen to it. If you feel driven by compassion to say something, to “not stay silent and offer nothing,”

Hmm. The person is working from an understanding of your experience that might be in large part wrong. But then again, yours is wrong. I urge you to investigate the history of and scientific basis for this model of “mental illness.”

1 comment:

  1. Hello SC,

    I think you once recommended Power and Powerlessness to me on SciBlogs, which was really good.

    Anyway, in respect of this post, I find it pretty strange for a sufferer of depression to be recommending listening to the voices in your head.

    One of the worst things about depression is that the 'voices' are impulsive and wrong, and that you start thinking and believing things you really don't believe, but are unable to get a good perspective on at the time. The relief for me came when I was able to talk about these inner voices and feelings with another person and they were able to get me to understand why I had those feelings, and to stop blaming myself for things that were out of my control, and that weren't my fault anyway. Of course this kind of therapy is more expensive and time-consuming than corporate entities want to pay for in most circumstances especially if you are relativley powerless and poor.

    Anyway, I have quite a lot of information for you regarding sceptism and psychiatry and the so called 'sick role' which is quite shocking, and in theme with a lot of your pschiatric posts, would it be possible for me to contact you to see if you have any interest/thoughts on the matter?