Is Mental Illness a Myth?

“Science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths”

Karl R. Popper

Many professionals believe that mental illness does not exist. In addition, it is a notion that belongs in literature, mythologies, and religion; and according to Szasz (1972). It may have been a concept useful in the 19th century. However, today it is a concept that is socially destructive and worthless. The topic of whether all persons who have challenges in life are suffering from mental illness. Since today’s society views all problems and difficulties as psychiatric ailments and labels everyone—outside of professionals—as mentally sick.

Psychologists, physicians, and philosophers have claimed that numerous societal power groups, including cultural norms, religious beliefs, and particular people like doctors, patients, and diagnosticians, are to blame for the complex idea of mental illness. Individuals have various perceptions of mental disease. Despite the fact that certain psychological techniques view patients as authorities on their own issues. For instance, In India people suffering from depression and hallucinations. They think they are the possession of persons who have passed away too soon. When it comes to the diagnosis of mental illness, patients play a crucial part as they are the ‘carriers’ of the symptoms.

According to Szasz (1972), when a person is unwell, they feel they have a physical anomaly and seek medical attention for it. Despite how society perceives them, they are physically healthy. Since they are unable to influence others, diagnosticians and practitioners often use the patient’s protolanguage (such as sobbing, bodily signals) to diagnose mental illness. Instead of attempting to comprehend and participate in varied conversations in various social circumstances. This common phenomena is misdiagnosed as “mental disease.” As a result, many mental diseases are produced. Simply said, certain experts, practitioners, and other professionals exaggerate a behaviour.

For example, In the case of what we call social anxiety disorder, or introversion, one could just be experiencing extreme levels of shyness. Similarly, in the case of OCD, one could be experiencing the need to be precise, or neat at all times. Thus, normal behaviors are termed as ‘mental illness’, just because they are outliers and away from the norm. The analyst or the therapist diagnosis or proceeds with a diagnosis based on his belief of what the patient says; the analyst does not actually say to the patient that what they believe is probably false, hence believing themselves that the patient is sick, but not knowing how. This can lead to what we call today, misdiagnosis. The diagnostic of his proto-language, which forms its core, serves as the foundation for the “treatment” procedure.

psychological disorders

The history of ‘mental illness’ is a long one. During that time, society has formed many norms and labels (stigmatising mental illness). Today justified by its classification in diagnostic manuals like the DSM and the ICD. These diagnostic manuals define ‘mental illnesses’ in such vague manners that anything that people dislike or consider outside the norm can fit into it. For example, the DSM defines schizophrenia as “characteristic disturbances of thinking, mood, or behaviour”.

Which is basically fitting to any ‘mental illness’ listed in the manual. Mental health practitioners see the DSM as a “bible” and use it uncritically to “cure” individuals with “mental diseases.”
Timimi (2014) contends that the use of psychiatric diagnoses does not help with therapy. Rather worsens stigma and calls for their elimination. When we speak of the validity of the diagnostic system, research has revealed that the diagnostic manuals are unable to connect diagnostic categories with aetiological processes like the rest of medicine. Since patients are receiving several diagnoses at an alarming rate, the manuals do not include any physical tests that may be utilised to establish a diagnosis. This raises questions about the specificity of diagnostic categories. Multiple diagnosis shows that there are faults in our understanding of the natural boundaries of the conditions we are diagnosing. In general, according to Szasz, the function of a diagnostic manual is to provide evidence that certain behaviours, and/or misbehaviours are mental disorders; however, behaviours or misbehaviours can not be diseases.

As already established, this causes negative labelling that can have drastic impacts upon an individual’s well-being. Hence, it is important that clinicians use the DSM with the awareness of the stigmatisation that it causes. As a result of diverse cultures, there is a demand for the need of culturally sensitive services, every mental health professional is expected to be aware of the cultural issues that can arise in practice. It is highly necessary for practitioners to recognize what is similar but at the same take into consideration what is different when working with a diverse population, this improves the services provided within the therapy. 

Szasz might have gone too far while saying that it is a myth. Even though in India there are still the majority who do not believe in it. And, though it may be generalising, I would say that ‘mental illness’ in its Western form, does not exist. Culture here plays a very important role in the diagnosis of ‘mental illness’. Some cultures in India believe that a person has been possessed by a spirit of an ancestor or a demon. If they suffer from depression or hallucinations.

Also, it is treated by a ‘baba’ or a ‘guru’ by beating the individual with peacock feathers or a broom in an attempt to ‘drive the spirit away’. One may argue that India’s beliefs and customs make it difficult and impractical to provide appropriate care for persons with mental health issues. The nation and its citizens have only lately begun to accept the concept of mental disease and psychiatry. Changing that notion is a challenge, however, seperating ourselves (Clinical Psychology) from the field of Psychiatry should be the start.

Yes, diagnosis helps in classification, but it helps us professionals, more than it helps the client. Anybody who can read has access to the DSM and ICD classifications. People can apply the criterion to their own conduct using these categories. People could wrongly think they have certain conditions as a result. For instance, someone who maintains order and cleanliness could think they have OCD. Similar to how someone going through grief can think they have a serious depression. However, of the careless application of these designations, new adjectives like “Oh, you’re so OCD” and “Can you cease being so bipolar” have emerged.

Don’t agree with Szasz, but maybe we should re-evaluate ourselves. 

Exit mobile version