The mental health conspiracy

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 seems like a conspiracy and it is time for a radical reappraisal.

From this standpoint, it should be 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 in a few easily digested words. Mental health mythology cannot be answered by scientists in white coats.

Put 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 can have real 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 circumstance, under the influence of social norms, cultural beliefs, and government legislation. If the messiness of life is to be addressed at all, it is necessary to abandon a simple “health” mindset.

For each person there will always be a gap between what is desired and what is achievable. When this gap has negative consequences it is not helpful to sweep them up into a big heap called “mental ill-health”. Most people resolve the gap without ever thinking that their suffering is due to a health problem. This is not to argue 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. The   umbrella of health hides the fact these problems may have entirely different causes. For this reason, greater imagination is needed rather than more services or resources. It doesn’t rule out science and medicine as having something to offer. It is simply to argue that “mental ill-health” is not primarily a scientific or medical issue.

The idea of mental health at an individual level can mystify the nature of problems and encourage a person to think of him or herself 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 “mental health theory” has been promulgated. The State willingly colludes, accepting that “mental ill-health” is an affliction that has little to do with its own laws, 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. The State now sees itself has having a duty to provide a “mental health service” premised on the existence of ‘disorders’, the need for ‘medical treatment’, and support for ‘sufferers’. The World Health Organisation believes that people around the world are experiencing an epidemic of mental disorder.

The blogs on this site discuss various aspects of the mental health conspiracy. They are not intended to 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 too 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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