Musings on that which gets called mental illness. What is it really?

Musings on that which gets called mental illness. What is it really?

There is often a debate that goes on between those who embrace psychiatry and those who are critical of it…and everyone inbetween for that matter too…as to whether or not mental illness is real.  The spectrum of where one stands on the issue of psychiatry is really very broad and diverse though people like to believe it’s always an either/or proposition. Little in life is that black and white even if it’s easier to imagine it to be the case.

So. Mental illness. Is it real?

As I suggested above the answer is not a simple yes or no.

The issue I personally have with calling these phenomena illnesses is that it implies that there is a distinct and unique pathology at root of all these descriptions. That’s patently clearly not true if one pays attention to each individual…it’s become clear to me both as a mental health professional and one who experienced something that got labeled bipolar disorder, that that which is labeled schizophrenia, bipolar, ADHD (etc, etc) can have completely unique etiologies from person to person…and without a holistic view of such phenomena (because in truth there is generally many multiple factors leading to such manifestations) it’s likely to be a complete non-starter to meaningfully make changes.

I undiagnosed myself a long time ago, by the way, because the illness model made zero sense to me personally. And I now experience nothing that closely resembles the clinical descriptor that I was told would be a life-long disease. In fact the only illness I have is iatrogenic from the medications given to me for said mental illness.

So while I have no issue with the fact that people suffer from deep and profound emotional, psychological, spiritual issues…I generally won’t call them illnesses simply because they are not the same as more clearly physically manifested dis-ease. Also, clearly, in my case, I came to harm due to such prevalent beliefs and the resulting barbaric treatment I received. The fact that I am hardly alone means we do need to consider how the treatment of such “illness” is harming so many people. 

That said, I do not deny that there are very real physical components to such mental and emotional manifestations…diet and exercise, meditation etc are often enough to cure…if given half a chance…attending to the body, the physical, is most often a critical part of anyone’s healing and total well-being.

Another thing to consider is trauma which can impact the body in very real and deeply physical ways. There is more and more science backing this up now.  See: For Trauma Survivors (info on trauma and the body)  and  The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

And then there is the fact that many people dealing with emotional distress find the “mental illness” label helpful to them at certain junctures of their lives. I sure as hell feel no need to force them to my way of thinking. I trust people to find their way in their own time and often times their way will not look anything like my way. Such is the nature of life and being human. If it’s a descriptor others find helpful while traveling through their own personal hell, I will respect that. Just as I’d like those people to respect my views which helped me get through.

However you want to consider mental health issues, they’re real. They can disable and people need support. That is something most people can agree on and it seems a starting point for mutual respect.

I provide information here for if and when people find it helpful. If they find it unhelpful there is no need for them to hang around. This is at the heart of being non-coercive. I aim for a deep allowance for others to do as they will as long as they are not imposing on others.

See also:


Listen here:  History in the system and my vision for mental health on Nonduality Talk to Monica envisioning what a future with an infrastructure of care that supports meaningful alternatives might look like. 


*it is potentially dangerous to come off medications without careful planning. Please be sure to be well educated before undertaking any sort of discontinuation of medications. If your MD agrees to help you do so, do not assume they know how to do it well even if they claim to have experience. They are generally not trained in discontinuation and may not know how to recognize withdrawal issues. A lot of withdrawal issues are misdiagnosed to be psychiatric problems. This is why it’s good to educate oneself and find a doctor who is willing to learn with you as your partner in care.  Really all doctors should always be willing to do this as we are all individuals and need to be treated as such. See: Psychiatric drug withdrawal and protracted withdrawal syndrome round-up

For a multitude of ideas about how to create a life filled with safe alternatives to psychiatric drugs visit the drop-down menus at the top of this page. 

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