Questioning Mental Health Diagnoses | + Opinion


These are the main stories I noticed this morning. The highlighted piece caught my eye because it deals with something I wrote about many years ago in undergrad and graduate studies.

Back then, innovative thinkers had begun to question psychiatric truth claims that many lesser lights still passively accepted as fact. The leading creative thinkers that come to mind are R. D. Laing, Thomas Szasz, Erving Goffman, Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckman, Émile Durkheim, Karl Polanyi, Ram Dass, Joseph Campbell, Michel Foucault and Carl Jung—the latter two figuring prominently in my Ph.D. thesis.

Durkheim was one of the first to look at the difficult topic of suicide from a sociological and statistical perspective

I was mostly interested in the link between social forces and medical interpretations of unconventional spiritual experiences. In one graduate paper, my closing line went something like:

Not to preclude a transcendental component, psychiatric conditions are ‘states of mind and minds of state.’

I thought the last line was pretty clever. And looking back, it does seem prescient.

In that paper, I talked about postmodernism and power, Karl Marx’s view of ideology, and a considerable number of mystical accounts from different world religions. I even threw in a bit of Hamlet to illustrate that psychological difficulties could in some instances be transformed into art, a point that Sister Wendy Beckett discusses throughout her remarkable DVDs.

Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God, God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!

One thing I did overlook, however, was the now fairly common topic of corruption. I grew up in a clean, honest, hard-working family and was pretty naive. These days I am not so naive and I think any serious analysis must include how corruption potentially influences public perception and organizational policy.

But to return to psychiatry, it is pretty clear that medical interpretations of psychological differences are not objective but emerge from within of a larger web of social relationships—that is, psychiatric diagnoses are relative to a given practitioner, geographic place and historical moment.

I am not sure I entirely agree with the above-linked article. But it does advocate thinking instead of unconsciously reproducing cultural norms and conditions. And that, IMO, is always a good thing.

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