Why a new blog on mental health? I have spent my career working as a mental health professional and have been disappointed that the public understanding of what is at stake has changed so little. Governments attempt to grapple with rising evidence of “mental ill-health” but do so with the primitive idea that the problem is one of “health”. Mental health professionals, the pharmaceutical industry, and mental health charities would all have a great deal to lose by dropping the idea that “mental disorder” is a meaningful concept. It is time for a radical reappraisal.
To present all this as a kind of conspiracy should make it clear that this blog is not a source of “impartial truth” about the facts of mental health, as if all that is needed is a discerning commentator to lay it all out for us in a few easily digested words. Mental health mythology cannot be answered by scientists in white coats.
To put it simply, life is unavoidably messy and its tragic aspect cannot be whitewashed over. I am not so simple-minded as to believe that people do not, for good or bad reasons, become extremely distressed, act strangely, anti-socially, or feel compelled to act in ways they would prefer not to. People have genuine problems but these are not merely an individual matter, as if “mental health policy” should be directed towards providing services to cure or assist them. That would ignore the fact that problems arise in certain kinds of social circumstance, under the influence of cultural beliefs, social norms, and government legislation. If the messiness of life is to be addressed at all, it is necessary to abandon a simple “health” mindset.
It is necessary to accept that there will always be a gap between what is desirable and what is achievable. Sweeping up the negative consequences of the gap into a big heap called “mental ill-health” is not helpful. Most people resolve the gap without ever thinking that their suffering is due to a health problem. This is not to say that we can just ignore calls from people who report difficulties, problems, suffering, and wish for this to be resolved or contained within tolerable limits. The conspiracy of mental health limits the way we approach this task and also serves the function, in many cases, of letting society or the individual off the hook. It lumps together problems under an umbrella of health that may have entirely different causes; what is needed more than services or resources is greater imagination. Science and medicine have great deal to offer but “mental ill-health” is not primarily a scientific or medical issue.
One consequence of the mental health concept at an individual level is that it mystifies the nature of problems and encourages a person to think of themselves as “ill”. This can happen without any deliberate intention (on the part of society or a person) to deceive. It is to fall in with a way of construing problems that has been with us for a couple of millennia, ever since some version of a bodily cause of problems was first promulgated. The State willingly colludes, accepting that “mental ill-health” is an affliction that has nothing to do with its own laws, social policies, or prevailing social conditions. The “sufferer” who seeks help is placed in the position of a supplicant, who is assisted by a process of ‘caring’ or ‘curing’, metaphors that would be appropriate if a person was really experiencing a physical illness or disability affecting the functioning of their body. It has now become a duty of the State to provide a “mental health service” that thinks in terms of disorders, medical treatment, and support for helpless, suffering people. The World Health Organisation believes that people around the world are experiencing an epidemic of ‘mental disorder’.
The blogs on this site discuss a variety of aspects of the mental health conspiracy. They do not promote a particular answer to any particular problem that a person might happen to have. This website is not offering a service. There are many sites that document how people have dealt with their own issues or have linked up with others to do so, and these are not difficult to find.
The purpose of these blogs is to encourage democratic debate – so please comment. Anything that seems completely irrelevant or is insulting will be removed as soon as possible.
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