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John Chuckman

COMMENT POSTED TO AN ARTICLE BY RICHARD BENTALL IN THE GUARDIAN

 

Sorry, I just do not agree that misery causes mental illness.

I’m no authority, but I am someone who has always been curious about the subject.

I’ve come to believe that all forms of mental illness represent glitches or flaws in the brain. Parenting, for example, plays little to no role, parents generally – always excluding criminal activity – playing less of a role in childhood lives than they themselves believe. We know, for example, today that peers play a far greater role in a child’s development than parents do.

Various traumas also play less of a role than is generally believed. The impact of trauma has a lot to do with the receptivity of the person. It is the basic structural nature of the brain that determines whether a person succumbs to trauma or overcomes it. We see both all the time.

We know how different imperfections can affect some organs, say the heart, there being a host of illnesses or future illnesses deriving from these differences – thin walls or thick, overall organ size, strength of blood vessels, etc.

The brain is infinitely more complex than the heart or any other organ, and its very complexity means it is subject to a great many possible flaws or imperfections. In a sense, ultimately the term “mental illness” will prove inadequate and not helpful. Flaws are flaws, whether in the shape of a bone or a lung or a brain.

The huge spectrum of mental disorders – from simple forms of anxiety to serious psychoses – is the result of the many individual things and combination of things which can affect so complex an organ. Really serious mental disorders – as, paranoid schizophrenia or severe autism – are likely the result of combinations of faults rather than individual ones because we see so many forms and severities of these conditions. It is much like differences in intelligence, which will undoubtedly ultimately prove to be determined by different combinations of formation and efficiencies of brain structures.

We have always had quacky theories and superstitions around the subject. Psychiatrists actually once believed, and told people, that poor mothering caused conditions like schizophrenia. That was in the last century and likely inflicted a great deal of pain on innocent parents.

Freud’s was the first serious effort to be scientific about these things, but today his “science” looks as advanced as bows and arrows. Freud himself believed his system could only help what he called neurotics but failed with psychotics, schizophrenics, manic-depressives, etc – in other words, it failed the people who really needed help. Nevertheless, we still have Freudian psychotherapists out there taking people’s money for regular sessions.

We have dozens of kinds of other “therapists.” New schools seemed to rise like weeds in a garden. But any of them is about as helpful with serious conditions as going vegan would be in helping cancer or heart disease.

Our pharmacology industry has been able to introduce some helpful drugs, but not enough of them or enough effective ones to make a difference. Some of these drugs for more serious conditions can be dangerous and some produce zombies. Others perhaps do little harm but not a lot of good either. And that is because we do not yet understand the precise cause of almost any of these disorders. Our drugs suppress symptoms at best.

Given humanity’s history of dealing with mental disorders – after all, two centuries ago we chained psychotics to walls in dungeons for life and as recently as the 1950s we cut out parts of the brains of schizophrenics (lobotomies), and for some conditions, we still strap people down and jolt them with electricity as a “therapy” – given all that, I think there has been huge advances in society’s ways of looking at mental illness.

We are such a cruel species at times, much like our relatives the chimps, it is virtually impossible to eliminate superstitions and bullying. We see bullying every day of people who look odd or have terrible physical impairments. We are also ignorant beyond telling. Remember, in parts of Africa they still hunt down poor albinos to kill them, and we are not that much different in advanced societies. Most of the people in our prisons are in fact mentally ill.

Real solutions for mental disorders will require a great deal more science than we yet have.

We need tolerance of course, but preaching tolerance to a society that daily kills people in a half dozen far-flung places because it believes they are dangerous, doesn’t go far. After all,  Britain’s government busies itself with selling many billions in arms to Saudi Arabia, a county murdering people in several places, including its own streets and led by an absolute monarch who has dementia.

 

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