I listened to one of my old Supertramp albums last night on Spotify. It was sublime, and went well with my latest update at earthpages.ca:
Note – As we see on CNN and elsewhere, for educational purposes the following talks about the n-word (in reference to black people) and the f-word (in reference to gay people)
Today’s tweeted story reminds me of a somewhat unpopular viewpoint of mine and a few others.
I don’t expect this view to be embraced overnight. In my opinion society is not yet in a place to fully get it. Sometimes I feel like a feminist, black or gay rights activist must have felt in the 1940s. It’s not too hard to imagine how most people back then would have reacted to innovative thinkers concerned with social justice. And it is not so different, I believe with the idea of mental illness.
The word “illness” lends support and legitimacy to the current medical model. And the term is used so often that to simply question it is usually met with indifference or, worse, hostility.
But there are other ways of looking at psychological discomfort and distress. Ways that involve personal transformation, spirituality and, yes, our largely unknown and mysterious universe.
So when I see the term “mental illness” a red flag goes up.
Several corporations have launched “Let’s talk about mental illness” campaigns. I’m not certain how sincere these campaigns are. They may be genuine. They may also be an effort to publicly shine with the hope of boosting profits. Possibly both.
But what concerns me most is the persistent and widespread use of the phrase mental illness.
- In the doctor’s office I saw a sign that read, FACE MENTAL ILLNESS
- On an Ontario highway a large billboard said I GOT MY DEGREE DESPITE MY MENTAL ILLNESS, replete with a smiling, slightly unusual looking woman wearing a mortarboard
- At Catholic Mass a Jesuit priest and a Monsignor repeatedly offer up prayers “for those suffering from mental illness”
And, as I say, corporations regularly advocate discussion and promote charities for “mental illness.”
Sounds good, right?
Well, not to me. Sometimes I’ve felt that these drives are tantamount to saying something like:
- It’s okay to be a n*****
- Face being a n*****
- I got my degree despite being a n*****
- We offer our prayers for the n*****s among us
- Let’s talk about being a n*****
- BEING A N***** IS NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF. BUT STIGMA AND BIAS SHAME US ALL
- It’s okay to be a f**
- Face being a f**
- I got my degree despite being a f**
- We offer our prayers for the f**s among us
- Let’s talk about being a f**
- BEING A F** IS NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF. BUT STIGMA AND BIAS SHAME US ALL
If that’s not clear enough, I am alluding to the old, pejorative n-word once commonly used for black people, and the old pejorative f-word once widely used for gays.
For those who question or see beyond the overly medicalized understanding of psychological suffering, many signs and slogans about so-called mental illness seem strangely paradoxical and indicate just how unenlightened we are in 21st century.
It’s time to not just talk about mental illness in the mainstream sense, but also about the negative and limiting connotations carried by the very phrase, mental illness. This phrase is widely and unconsciously used today, just as the n- and f-words were once ignorantly tossed about in the past.
Words have power. They affect how people think and act. And the built-in assumptions and implications of many words can be harmful or helpful.
So I offer this perspective as something to think about. It’s time to talk. Not unconsciously, just kicking the same old ideas around—but consciously, with open, discerning minds.
About the Author
Michael Clark did his PhD in Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa, Canada (1997). His doctoral thesis focuses on Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity and Michel Foucault’s postmodern theory.
When I was an undergrad student taking psychology courses in the mid 1980s, ECT was portrayed as something from one of the dark chapters in psychiatric history.
“We know better now” was the general message put out by psychology textbooks.
So when I recently heard that ECT was on the rise again, I was truly surprised.
Actually, ECT never entirely went away, despite what those psychology textbooks claimed.
I understand that only those who are severely depressed undergo treatment. But surely there’s a better way.
Scientists don’t even know why it works. Some theorize that it temporarily blunts the emotions by decreasing blood flow to a region of the brain.
Critics say that ECT usually causes disorientation and memory loss and when the treatment wears off, things are even worse.
To me, the whole thing sounds like something frightening out of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle era or perhaps further back to Mary Shelley.
Sociologically, statistics show that late middle aged women receive this treatment significantly more than men.
No wonder I abandoned psychology as my undergrad major and switched to sociology. As one sociology professor put it while I was contemplating the change, “psychology is hindering your intellectual development.”
Of course, sociology fell short too. As did philosophy and, as you may have read yesterday, the academic study of religion.
That’s why I like to talk about the issues. Nobody has everything all figured out. And anyone who emphatically thinks they have are probably insane, naïve, brainwashed or fanatical.
These are all great stories but they seem to overlook one important factor: The spiritual. For me, human beings are a mix of biological, psychological, social and spiritual elements. Why some people are not attuned to the spiritual dimension is a bit of a mystery to me. I used to be like that when I was a kid. But life changed me. And it still is.
One problem with the data is that some people, like myself, may get the flu – after having the flu shot – but not go to the doctor. In my case, I preferred to just rest and sleep it off. It took a while. A nasty flu last year. So I am wondering, according to what the story in this tweet says (especially the blue and gold highlighting), if I should get it this year. My gut is saying no. But is my gut always right? Hmmm.
The above tweet points to some obvious cases where men are victims of sexism. But discrimination occurs on many levels, in many different ways. Men can perpetuate sexism against men, just as women can perpetuate sexism against women. Sexism isn’t only about one gender disrespecting and oppressing another. And what about “pretty” people discriminating against the “ugly.” Or that thin against the obese? The tall against the short? The “normal” against the “weird”?
The unfortunate dynamic of discrimination occurs because, well, people are impressionable. So a situation often arises where we are sort of brainwashed, I guess, into believing in things and acting in certain ways that are not based in reality nor good for humanity as a whole.
Another routinely overlooked example of believing in things that may not be good for us, I would suggest, is found in some of the darker corners of psychiatry. Some people abuse psychiatric drugs, or perhaps their doctors are incompetent and abusive in prescribing drugs when they shouldn’t be.
Instead of dealing with all the causes of depression, for example, some take pills because that seems to help. I am not sure how much of that help is due to the well documented placebo effect and how much is actual. But the problem with taking pills that affect your brain is that, over time, the brain will likely try to compensate for whatever is altering its systems.
The brain is not a fixed, metal machine but a living organ. So when strange chemicals enter into its everyday workings, it grows new receptors or makes other changes to try to compensate. Now, down the line, if someone wants to go off their pills, they may find that their brain has actually changed. And whatever those pills were once “fixing” may now be even worse because the brain changes (as a result of taking the pills) have made the brain more sensitive to whatever was contributing to the issue in the first place.
Doctors realize this. So what do they do? Many prescribe a new set of pills to fix the new problem. They do this knowing that over time, even more biochemical issues will likely arise. So it’s sort of playing “patch up” the problem, knowing that in doing so there’s a high probability that they will be contributing to a whole new set of problems. But it’s no game. It’s your brain.
This may seem like a bit of a diversion from the tweet about sexism, but I think it’s a good example where people believe in something that in the long run may not be good for them. I write about scientism a fair amount at earthpages. I guess some think I’m just a nut with my eyes closed to the wonders of science. But in reality, not all science is pure. In fact, much of it is politically, ideologically and economically driven. But that’s a topic for another day!
Today’s another day where I won’t have time to comment on these stories until later. So I thought I’d just list my favs for now: