Bronze-level articleMental illness denial

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Mental illness denial is the denial of the existence of mental disorders as real medical conditions and the field of psychiatry as a legitimate science.


[edit] L. Ron Hubbard's batty crusade

In the 1950s, L. Ron Hubbard published his book, Dianetics, and repeatedly submitted papers on the subject to psychological and psychiatric journals. Of course, the editors of the journals thought the idea of the Reactive Mind and the state of Clear was bologna and they all rejected his submissions. Hubbard, however, continued to peddle his pseudo-psychology and built up a cult following around Dianetics. He and his followers started up a bunch of schools and organizations to promote his bullshit. After one of them closed down due to lack of funding and the American Psychiatric Association criticized Dianetics, Hubbard went into uber-crank mode, denouncing it as a conspiracy by psychiatrists to destroy his precious Dianetics. Hubbard's butthurt over a perceived conspiracy by psychiatrists helped lay the foundations for one of the largest cults in US history: Scientology. In the early '50s, Hubbard and his followers began to call themselves Scientologists and started various chapters and associations of Scientology. It wasn't until 1959, though, when the Church of Scientology would take on its more familiar trappings by introducing E-Meters and such.[1] But we'll come back to Hubbard later.

[edit] Anti-psychiatry

See the pseudopsychology page for more legitimate criticisms of psychiatric practice.

[edit] Roots

The anti-psychiatry movement was never really a unified movement in any way, more a collection of philosophers and activists who were vaguely interrelated and some who were not even totally opposed to psychiatry at all. The foundation of the movement was laid in the 1960s, when French philosopher Michel Foucault published his first book Madness and Civilization and British psychiatrist R.D. Laing published a number of works critical of psychiatric practices. This was back in the days when homosexuality was considered a mental disorder and lobotomies were still widely (mis)used for everything from depression to nymphomania,[2] so there was much to criticize. Laing and Foucault never denied mental illness, they simply pointed out the history of the concept and how it had been used as a means of oppression (though anti-psychiatric cranks often omit this part). Laing's view was that while mental illness may be real it is a natural human response to a sick society. Foucault and Laing's influence would later bring a radical leftist element into the anti-psychiatry camp.[3]

[edit] Changing public perception

Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest also came out around this time, which influenced popular perceptions of psychiatry. Later anti-psychiatry texts would draw on these works as a foundation even though they did not explicitly deny mental illness. Gay activists were heavily involved in anti-psychiatry protests, though most were simply opposed to the inclusion of homosexuality in the DSM and not psychiatry as a whole. Gay activists actually crashed a number of American Psychiatric Association meetings until they took the gay out of the DSM in 1973 as a result of the protests and new research into sexuality like that of Evelyn Hooker and (to a lesser extent) Alfred Kinsey.[4]

[edit] Thomas Szasz

The true godfather of mental illness denial was the American psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, a contemporary of Foucault and Laing. Szasz was an ideologically motivated doctor with little real-world experience who used his post to attack the workings of the legal system. In fact, he admitted he was never really interested in psychiatry or psychology. Szasz published The Myth of Mental Illness in 1961, which became the bedrock of mental illness denial.[5] He used his newfound platform to launch his crusade against the insanity defense and the practice of involuntary commitment. Szasz's basic argument, which he repeated ad nauseam over tens of books throughout his life, was that 'mental illness' was a literalized metaphor because the mind was not a physical scientific object and therefore could not be subject to a biological disease. Szasz also argued for the legalization of drugs, the end of involuntary commitment, lobotomies, and the misuse of shock therapy on this basis, which demonstrates the old adage about the stopped clock. He was also a major critic of the idea that homosexuality was a disease. He did not advocate for the end of psychiatry as a discipline, though, he simply believed it to be a pseudoscience but argued that people should be allowed to see psychiatrists only if there was mutual consent.[6] It's worth noting that Szasz had a number of salient points to make about psychiatric practices at the time, but his work today is mostly used as a justification for quackery.


[edit] Again with Hubbard

This is where Hubbard comes back in. He saw an opportunity to further his crusade against psychiatry when he heard of Szasz's work and, in conjunction, the two formed the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR). Szasz never was and never became a Scientologist (ironically, Szasz is known as a staunch atheist), but the CCHR essentially became the anti-psychiatry front of the Co$ and acts on their direct order. The CCHR has been peddling its bullshit ever since, spewing some really batshit conspiracy theories claiming that psychiatry was responsible for World War I, Hitler, Stalin, and 9/11. They were also responsible for that Psychiatry: Industry of Death tour recently.[7] Szasz himself never believed this nonsense, but acted as an enabler for the insanity coming out of the CCHR. Notable uber-quack Gary Null also has the CCHR to thank for his anti-medical anything position.[8]

[edit] Loss of common cause and fractioning

After the barbaric practice of lobotomy ended, along with the de-institutionalization of mental patients (more due to a lack of funding for mental hospitals than anything else), as well as a court ruling that protected those with mental illness under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the anti-psychiatry movement lost some of its traction. Growing tensions between secular anti-psychiatrists and Scientologists have also heavily weakened it — because of Scientologists' habit of infiltrating any organization that might further their cause, many anti-psychiatry groups have banned Scientologists from joining.[9]

[edit] Current status

Nowadays anti-psychiatry is limited to a smaller, but vocal, minority within the mental health industry, the CCHR and Scientologists, and various woo-meisters, usually alties, New Agers, and other hippie types, that recycle their propaganda to hawk their own brand of quackery. The movement itself, however, has been united in recent years with the advent of the internet, thus making it seem larger than it actually is.[10] There is also a small strain of mental illness denial among the nuttier libertarians due to Szasz's involvement in the Libertarian Party and the Soviet Union's use of the mental health system to lock up dissidents. A small minority of radical queer activists such as Gay Shame maintain an anti-psychiatry stance, a position that was otherwise dropped by most of the gay rights movement long ago when homosexuality was delisted from the DSM.

[edit] The big false argument

The most common argument by mental illness deniers is that there is no such thing as mental illness because there is no observable pathology. Szasz and others have been reformulating, repackaging, recycling, and regurgitating this argument since the '60s. This assumes that the brain works the same way as the heart or the liver. Some mental disorders may be defined as some point on the very extreme end of the bell curve where an individual is simply dysfunctional. Dyslexia, for example, may be defined as an extreme disability in reading skill. Thus, it is simply a category with which people may be labeled so they can receive extra help. This also precludes the fact that what was once purely a mental illness may later be found to have a biological basis. Senile dementia, for example, is being increasingly replaced with the diagnosis of Alzheimer's, which is now thought to be at least in part due to a build-up of neuritic plaque in the brain.[11] Yet another problem with this argument is that we currently do not have the technological means to view the chemical interactions of every synapse of every neuron at the same time, so there could be some dysfunction there that is unseen. There is also an example that everyone is familiar with: Migraine headaches. This cannot be "seen" by current technology, but no one would deny that headaches exist.

The crank conspiracy theories about psychiatrists taking over the world or Big Pharma inventing mental illness require serious attention.

[edit] Neuroplasticity

This becomes even more silly since the recent[when?] advances in research of neuroplasticity. This discovery has shown that humans are able to add synaptic connections through their experiences.

This has been researched (with some good success) for treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as well as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Subjects were given medication that interfered with memory recall and asked to read aloud their traumatic experience that would normally cause a flashback, or read aloud something that would normally trigger a maladaptive response. By exposure, and taking medication that interfered with the brain's ability to recall the memory with such vividness, several subjects were able to read their experience aloud without the same emotional response that would normally cause the unwanted behaviour or response. This is proof that while we can not actually "see" a mental disorder, we can treat it by physically interfering with how the brain recalls an event through use of medications that have been proven to interfere with the brain's ability to recall memory and make new neural connections.

[edit] ADHD and autism denial

Unfortunately, due to rising instances of ADHD and autism diagnoses, there has been increasing mental illness denial in the form of simply denying the existence of ADHD or autism, but not mental illness as a whole. Some wingnuts like Michael Savage have claimed that autistic kids are just brats who need more discipline or some similar bullshit. There is also some autism denial among anti-vaccination cranks who believe autism is simply mercury poisoning. Parents critical of the way ADHD is diagnosed and treated in children, while they do have legitimate criticisms, too often turn to ADHD denial and become peddlers of some alt-woo. However, the existence of autism and ADHD do have solid empirical evidence backing them.[12]

[edit] "Difference model"

A current politically correct approach to mental illness is the "difference model."[13] This, as contrasted with the "deficit model," varies from the other examples here in that it makes no factual denials; promoters of the difference model, while acknowledging the symptoms of a person's mental illness, will try to pretend that there is nothing at all the matter with that person. Consequently, according to the difference model, instead of giving treatment to the mentally ill, society must be "restructured" to accommodate them as is. There have been some cases of people committing acts of violence after being released from mental hospitals under cost-cutting "care in the community" initiatives partially prompted by these ideas.[14] Note that while this is uncommon (with the mentally ill being more likely to be victims of violence then initiators), it does happen.

[edit] In their defense

There are several who complain about the scientific validity of Psychiatry (and mental illness from a psychological and neurological perspective as well) who take the position of Karl Popper on what is and what is not science. In their defense, a strict Popperist would be largely forced to come to the conclusion that psychiatry is a form of pseudoscience, if only because it is often difficult to the point of impossibility to prove in a strict experiment what causes mental illness. In theory, one could provide drugs which should replicate the neural conditions which cause a mental disorder to a person who does not have a mental illness, and see if they develop this condition. For example, a common theory of what causes Major Depression is that a neural transmitter (essentially, a chemical that tells your brain to do things) called serotonin is reabsorbed by the neuron which released it (a process call "reuptake"). Many Anti-Depressant Drugs are chemicals which prevent this from happening, thus treating the neurochemical cause of depression. In theory, a group could develop a drug which would cause this excessive serotonin reuptake, and see if this causes Major Depression in their patients. This is, however, hilariously unethical, and is unlikely to happen.

The response to this point is threefold:

  1. Because we cannot ethically know that excess serotonin reuptake is the cause of Major Depression, but treating that seems to cure the symptoms, we can assume that it is the cause.
  2. This is essentially the problem faced by all medical professions, since none of them can ethically try to give their patients a disease to verify that (for example) HIV causes AIDS.
  3. There is a reason why Mr. Popper, while highly respected, is no longer the king of Philosophy of science. A strict Popperist would be forced to conclude that the majority of science is, in fact, unscientific.

[edit] See Also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Hubbard timeline
  2. Oh noes! This woman is uppity, and enjoying her own sexuality! SHE MUST BE INSANE!!!
  3. Mervat Nasser. The Rise and Fall of Anti-Psychiatry. Psychiatric Bulletin 1995, 19:743-746.
  4. Homosexuality and Mental Health, UC Davis
  5. Szasz's Myth of Mental Illness
  6. Mervat Nasser. The Rise and Fall of Anti-Psychiatry. Psychiatric Bulletin 1995, 19:743-746.
  7. Collection of articles on the exhibit as well as general articles on CCHR at Xenu Directory.
  8. See this Wikipedia talk page on Null detailing CCHR contributions to his projects.
  9. The homepage of the Anti-Psychiatry Coalition puts it bluntly: "No Scientologists, Please."
  10. Rissmiller and Rissmiller. Evolution of the Anti-psychiatry Movement into Mental Health Consumerism. Psychiatr Serv 57:863-866, June 2006. See also a letter to the editor concerning the paper.
  11. Neuritic (senile) plaques, University of Oklahoma College of Medicine
  12. Novella on ADHD denial and autism
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