Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Are you nuts?

Very likely. CDC says 25% of Americans have a "mental illness." They also say that half of us will have a "mental illness" at some time in our lives.

Bummer. (Uh oh, I shouldn't have said that. Maybe I'm depressed.)

The problem with this claim is that whether or not you have a "mental illness" is purely a matter of whether a committee of psychiatrists has decided that some state of affairs qualifies as a "mental illness" and some specific psychiatrist or otherwise authorized savant, such as a clinical psychologist or your family doc has decided that said state of affairs applies to you.

As you have likely heard, an effort is just winding up to create a new set of diagnostic criteria for mental illness. You can read all about it here. It's fascinating to explore. Keep in mind that as my old professor Sheldon Krimsky and his colleague Lisa Cosgrove have reported, 69% of the authors of the new DSM5 have ties to the pharmaceutical industry. And you know what happens to people who have "mental illnesses": they take pills.

Do you often argue with authority figures? Do you often actively defy or refuse to comply with requests from authority figures? Have you been spiteful or vindictive at least twice within the last six months? Are you often touchy or easily annoyed? Congratulations! You have oppositional defiant disorder. You are mentally ill.

Have you been sad for two weeks, even if you think you have a good reason? You're having a major depressive episode! Do you tend to misplace things? Do you talk too much? Are you easily distracted? Disorganized? You probably already know you have ADHD.

Even the definition of schizophrenia is based purely on whether somebody thinks you're just too weird, basically. Anders Breivik and Ted Kaczynski have both been diagnosed with schizophrenia but I read this and I have to say, "Huh?" A requirement to have schizophrenia is having at least one of delusions, hallucinations, or disorganized speech; and if you don't have two of those, you also need to have grossly abnormal psychomotor behavior (e.g., you are permanently in the fetal position); or diminished emotional expression or avolition.

Hating non-Europeans and non-Christians, or thinking that industrial civilization has been a disaster, are unpopular ideas in some circles, though not in others. Killing folks more or less at random in order to promote these ideas is teleologically inept, to be sure, also illegal. But I fail to see what is gained by applying a disease label to it.

Here's the basic problem. Psychiatrists like to say that these, and other traits they label as psychiatric diseases, have something to do with "chemical imbalances" and that they can be fixed by swallowing the right chemicals. However, they have no specific evidence for any particular chemical imbalance being related to any particular set of diagnostic characteristics. All they know is that if you drug people into a properly semi-stuperous condition,  they will be, for example, less oppositional and defiant, or less fidgety. As soon as a real chemical imbalance or functional neurological impairment is discovered and a reliable test for it is found, the problem ceases to be a mental illness and becomes a neurological condition, or perhaps even an infectious or endocrine disease.

Psychiatry, up to a point, may be necessary. But it is not properly considered scientific medicine. That's my opinion, anyway.

1 comment:

robin andrea said...

There is an entire infrastructure built to ameliorate the madness that comes from living the way we do. Life among a million strangers, and nary a kin in sight. There is no pill that can balance the absurdity of modern life.