For us to learn, we first must have open minds; then we must proceed kindly and with gentleness.
(The following was written in response to a dialogue on LinkedIn [http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Time-Change-Help-End-Mental-]
Yesterday I was reading a psychiatrist’s essay that stipulated that we are driven by fear and helplessness, and that the way we reassure ourselves is by trusting in our gods, be they parents, priests, physicians or politicians. What if we weren’t driven by fear and could openly assess the pros and cons of what is put forth? What if we had the courage to give up our gods and take responsibility for ourselves? (Or, turn to the one true Brahman/Yahweh/God/Allah, who would guide us to the one true truth?)
For many people, psychiatrists and drugs are the gods of choice. My recollection is that one person posted that he carries the diagnosis of schizophrenia and has taken drugs for thirty years. Certainly, in the name of full disclosure, our biases should be made public. Schizophrenia is an enduring state of terror; anybody would do anything they could to ameliorate the terror. Further, another one of his gods is academe: everything must be researched and footnoted in order to be true. In fact, people had knowledge long before doctoral degrees were invented.
Another person holds up the god of NIMH—they couldn’t be liars, could they? Yes, they could. I was a participant in one of the studies that concluded that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. I had been taking antidepressants every day for nine years. I went to NIMH and was off drugs for two weeks before they did their testing. Does any rational adult believe that nine years on versus two weeks off is a sound basis for scientific assessment? Furthermore the NIMH inpatient unit was horrific in ways too extensive to detail here and it created depression! The NIMH investigators were creating a depressing situation then testing patients and finding that they had a chemical imbalance. Therefore, they concluded, a chemical imbalance causes depression. Not true.
NIMH was biasing the basis of the testing and therefore the results of the testing cannot be relied upon. Depression causes a chemical imbalance, not vice versa.
The question begins here: what is the difference between the mind and the brain? If schizophrenia is a mental disorder then it should be treated by “mentalists”—whatever they are. If it is a brain disease then it should be treated by neurologists. There is no such thing as a “medical disease”; there are only diseases that are treated medically. To treat medically means to treat with medicine, i.e., drugs. Saying that a disease is medical because it is treated by “doctors, nurses and psychologists” is wrong. Psychologists and psychotherapists do not treat with drugs and, therefore, are not providing medical treatment—however, they are paid by Medicare and Medicaid, which confounds the problem. Where is the line drawn? And do we need to have a line drawn?
Look at it from a different point of view: if schizophrenia is not of the body then is it of the spirit? And who treats the spirit? And what is the spirit? “The nonphysical part of a person that is the seat of emotions and character; the soul.” What is the mind? “The element, part, substance, or process that reasons, thinks, feels, wills, perceives, judges.” And the brain? “The part of the central nervous system enclosed in the cranium of humans and other vertebrates, consisting of a soft, convoluted mass of gray and white matter and serving to control and coordinate the mental and physical actions.” This gives us the brain, controlling the mind, which is also the spirit—sort of. However, if you look at other dictionaries than the ones I’ve chosen, the definitions become even more unclear and at cross purposes. Spirit, mind or body, we don’t know what we’re talking about, so how are we to proceed?
Gently, and with kindness. There are doctors who are treating schizophrenia as a spiritual disease. There are therapists who are treating it as a social disease. There are physicians who are treating it as a medical disease. Who is having the most success? At this point we should refer out to the Mental Elf [on LinkedIn], who is trying to track the research on outcomes.
Based on my considerable life experience and education, I believe that mental illness—both schizophrenia and depression—is a social disease of the mind and is contracted through negative interactions with other human beings, which then forces changes in the brain to accommodate the mental dysfunction. My belief is that the social dysfunction comes first, the brain disorder follows it, and medical attempts to restore function do more harm than good. Lobotomies, surgical or chemical, don’t help.
Do we, first of all, know what makes a mentally healthy person? Do we have a set of criteria against which to measure health? How many hugs a day are required to make a healthy person? We have a food pyramid and all kinds of information on how many grams per day of protein, fiber and sodium we need to make us physically healthy. Why don’t we have the same thing with mental health? As long as we focus on sickness, we will be sick.
So what gods do you follow? What makes you feel safe? Believing that mental illness is of the body is a lot less frightening than considering the alternatives. You can take pictures of the brain, and weigh and measure drugs and chemicals, but if you conceive of mental illness as being of the mind/spirit, then what are you going to do? How much of our treatment of mental illness springs out of our fear of the unknown, and our need to control chaos?