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

flowerThere is often a debate that goes on between those who embrace psychiatry and those who are critical of it…and everyone in-between 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 have with calling these phenomena illnesses is that it implies that there is a distinct  pathology at root of all these categories called psychiatric diagnosis. That’s 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 to disastrous effect, that that which gets called schizophrenia, bipolar, ADHD (etc, etc) can have completely unique etiologies from person to person. So, without a holistic view of such phenomena (because in truth there is generally many multiple factors leading to such manifestations in each person) finding healing is unlikely to happen and is the reason behind psychiatry’s abysmally poor results. They treat everyone with the same blunt instrument, this will never result in widespread positive results. See also: How are psychiatric diagnosis made?

I undiagnosed myself a long time ago because the illness model made zero sense to me personally. And I really never experienced anything that closely resembles the clinical descriptor that I was told would be a life-long disease. In fact the only illness I have now is iatrogenic from the medications given to me for that bipolar disorder they insisted I had when I was a teenager.

So, while it’s clear that people suffer from deep and profound emotional, psychological and spiritual distress, I won’t generally call them illnesses simply because they are not the same as more clearly physically manifested disease. 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.

I do make room for the word illness as a social commentary and in that regard we are all (diagnosed or not) part of this sick culture and society. For example take this lovely quote into consideration:

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. – Jiddu Krishnamurti 

In that regard we do all need to work on getting well together as a people and culture to save not only ourselves, but the planet and all the species on earth.

So — mental illness as popularly conceived — there is no denying that there are very real physical components to such emotional distress…diet and exercise, meditation etc are often enough bring about deep healing. Attending to the body, the physical, is most often a critical part of most folks journey to total well-being. Trauma, too, impacts the brain and body in real ways, but healing requires gentle balancing and holistic therapeutics. Drugs are neurotoxic and tend to exacerbate and cause further imbalance if over-used.

Trauma impacts 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

Some people dealing with emotional distress find the “mental illness” label helpful to them at certain junctures of their lives. I’m not sure why this offends many people who otherwise share my perspective. 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.
Beyond Meds provides information for people who find a holistic approach helpful. If they find the ideas presented here unhelpful there is no need for them to hang around. This is at the heart of being non-coercive. I advocate for a deep allowance for others to do as they will as long as they are not imposing that will on others.

Related content from Beyond Meds:

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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