Controversial Medical/Mental Health

What I enjoy most about this weeks reading is how controversial hearing voices and mental disorder diagnosis is in society. In many instances of mental disorders, there is no, or very little, tangible or recognizable symptoms. The illness is thought to stem from the mind or the brain, which is also believed to define who and what a person is and so it follows, that if something is wrong with a persons brain and how it processes information, that something tends to make that person less human. It is unfortunate, because a similar argument can be made for any other sickness or pain. Short of being an open wound, bruises, aches and poorly functioning organs are invisible without looking under the skin and have never been thought of in a way that dehumanizes individuals. We take aspirin for a headache and think nothing of it. Pains are present in most adults and we manage, why can’t the same be done for mental disorders? We continue to advance our ability to treat disorders but we have never changed the way we think about those that have them. We pity them and feel guilty for them rather than respect them for simply being human and fighting to live a normal life. A boxer with a broken bone will get back in the ring, a parcel delivery wo/man returns to work after knee surgery, the special Olympics, an entire event dedicated to those less fortunate where we recognize and respect them for their efforts. We should offer the same respect to those with mental disorders living their life and getting better at it everyday as we do for our peers, parents and coworkers.

It seems what is needed for the individual so cope is needed in society. Siri Hustvedt’s The Shaking Woman describes the life of a woman who journeys to define her disorder and in the process learns to own the pieces of her she once alienated. In The Man Who Walked Away, Albert finds himself in a mental institution where others find his life and his “illness” fascinating. At the closing of the books, the doctor and nurse do not chase him, nor try to find him when he leaves. Rather he is accepted for who he is, what he has, and envied to a large extent for the places he has seen and the stories he can tell, all due to a type of disorder the great doctor exploits publicly, dehumanizing the woman he manipulates on stage.

While I am not sure that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is necessarily detrimental to the way we view mental disorders, I do believe it plays a role in how society views mental illness. The DSM however was created and is maintained as an effort to help patience not place a societal stigma on their conditions, that I believe is the fault of societal naivety and in fairness, a lack of the understanding of the causes of mental disorders as well as the drugs we use to “correct” them. Mindfulness then, as a practice promotes the acceptance of who we are and the ability to live in the moment as we are currently. A mindful societal movement would benefit both acceptance and foster understanding that may ultimately be necessary for a change in research and a more humanistic approach to the DSM.


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5 Responses to Controversial Medical/Mental Health

  1. I found the statistic in Lurhmann’s article so powerful: “The WHO estimates that one in four people will have an episode of mental illness in their lifetime.” Given this statistic, it’s amazing how mental health issues are still so hidden in the U.S. (by individuals, families, and society at large), and that the access to solutions is so muddled, expensive, and/or lacking. We only lift our heads up collectively to them when we see tragedies in the news, usually involving gun violence. Even personal and/or family management of mental health in the home or close community is brushed under the rug… the family member who is managing their own care or being managed to the best of their family’s or friends’ abilities. And over the past 30 years, large, facility-based mental health populations have slowly been moved from institutions to prisons and the streets. There was an intense PBS Frontline about this a few years ago called “The New Asylums,” which I recommend.

    I’ve always thought that mental health should be approached at least in the same way we approach general body health (though, I’d like to see vast improvements in both areas even from where general body health is, still), starting at the earliest ages and monitored throughout adolescence, teen, and young adult years then into one’s 30s and beyond; just like one gets a “check-up” with their MD. But to make it usual and as normal as just going to the doctor for a check-up, we’d need to change the stigmas involved. You don’t just get diagnosed and potentially shunned… There’d need to be a real changing of the definitions, approaches, ways in which personal narratives are relayed, and the treatments one might receive to manage their brain and body together as effectively as possible. Mental ailments should be taken just as seriously as body ailments. A brain in pain is just as much an emergency as a broken leg, etc. Somehow the complications (not entirely understanding the causes and roots of ailments so that therapies and medications are always failing/evolving) and the length of time involved in treatment (which, from what I’m proposing above, is basically a lifetime) deter the system from being able to handle the real needs.

  2. Mari Gorman says:

    Hi Yael,

    I think it’s great that you can put off an inner voice until you are in a better place to address it. The voice of worry tends to present an obstacle to me for doing that, since it deludes me into thinking that by worrying about something I am doing something about it. Someone once told me that worry is the pagan form of prayer.

  3. In response to Mari,

    I thought the idea of addressing voices at different times seemed like my version of compartmentalizing. People often think I am without feeling or emotion when really, I decide to address certain emotions at times that are more convenient for me. I don’t generally hear anyone in my head besides myself but I will explicitly tell myself to return to an idea or feeling later when I will be more prepared to process it (whether than means writing out solutions or crying until I feel more relaxed). It makes sense to me that people would address their voices explicitly because it means that you are letting yourself know, in addition to your voices, that this is important and must be handled.

    In response to Andrew and Berni,

    I agree that people with mental disorders are not treated the same as those without mental disorders but I think it is also very common for people with physical disabilities to garner pity more frequently than respect. I think mental disorders cause people a fear and discomfort with the unknown, unseen, and unexpected whereas physical disabilities cause discomfort because individuals are aware of what they have that others don’t (legs that can walk, two arms, etc.). There are definitely people who respect the triumphs of those who have physical disabilities and are impressed because of the “despite their disability” mentality. However, if people with physical disabilities were truly respected and accepted into society, more advertisements and TV shows would feature them. We are still at a point where physical disabilities are stigmatized and interpreted, or contribute, to considering people as not whole. They, like people with mental disorders, are underrepresented in our media, and when there, used as a token.

    Tomorrow we have a speaker at Queens College that speaks to this:

    Danielle Sheypuk recently did a Tedex but the video is not out yet – Her topic is the psychology of dating, relationships and sexuality among the disabled community.

  4. Hi Andrew,

    It’s an interesting point you raise about how people with mental disorder are not given the same treatment when they try to live on with their illness as those with physical injury or disability. It might be because mental illness is less visible which makes it harder to generate empathy. We can imagine (or try to) the pain of an injury or the loss of a particular ability be that sight or a limb and this evokes empathy and respect to those who in spite of these difficulties march on with their lives. Another problem is perhaps the notion that mental illness is related to personal life, perhaps a childhood trauma, over which others have little knowledge of. While we may assume that something must have happened, we don’t exactly know what it was or what the circumstances were that led to this condition. As Eleanor Longden explained in her Ted Talk, it was a mistake to disclose her condition to her friend. How is she supposed to explain it to a stranger if her own friend was unable to help her? Unfortunately campaigns to change our view of mental illness appears to have gained little traction. I, for instance, was not aware of the hearing voices organization and suspect that a large number of organizations addressing mental illness cases compete for public attention in a bid for a shift in paradigm.

  5. Mari Gorman says:

    I very much liked the talk by Rufus May. People who work to lessen the suffering of people are able to convey things in such a genuine way that one can really learn from them. When he spoke about the different ways that people perceive voice hearers in our culture as compared to the more benevolent ways in which people perceive them in some other cultures, it struck me that in our culture people tend to view others in self-centered or self-serving ways. To doctors the voice hearers are automatically mentally ill, because that’s that’s the value they have to them. (Not all doctors, of course.) People are afraid of them because it is how voice hearers are depicted the media–which is not likely to run a story about a well-adjusted voice-hearer because it lacks sufficient entertainment value. Frankly, until reading and seeing the studies for this week, the only thing I ‘knew’ about voice hearers was that if someone is hearing voices, the voices are telling them to kill people. Joan of Arc has never come to mind.

    It was also interesting to learn about the technique of letting the voice speak about itself, so that it is possible to find out where it is coming from, what it’s concerns are, etc. not just for the voice’s sake but because until bringing the voice out into the open, the voice hearer is all alone with the voice. If there is a conflict between the hearer and the voice it can begin to be resolved. Also, for the voice hearer is left alone with a voice that is abusive, for instance, it is like a person who is being abused but no one knows who the abuser is, s/he is hidden.

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