End the ignorance about “mental illness”?

A long time before I retired in 1998 I visited a patient at Norwalk mental hospital in southern California, let’s call his George. George had mood swings, often overslept, seemed apathetic and at times hallucinating and acting “weird.” He was admitted to the mental hospital in Norwalk with  multiple mental illness diagnoses. Within weeks he started receiving $900 per month SSI and seemed content to stay that way. One day his brother Jim needed a worker in his warehouse for car spare parts. He kind of  “rocked the boat” by visiting George in the mental hospital “day room” and offering him the job at his warehouse, mind you, without first consulting with the with hospital psychiatrists! George accepted the offer because as he put it, “I would be earning $1,200 per month, $300 more than the SSI check pays and I will be doing what I love to do (deal with car spare parts).”  The psychiatrists objected and wrote professional reports about George being mentally ill and not qualified to work, but to no avail. George visited his new work place and immediately liked his co-worker Susan who worked there as the warehouse supervisor-manager. They both were car buffs who could talk for hours about car spare parts. George “lost” his $900 SSI checks because his salary was now $1,200.00 per month. He started a new life.

Dear readers, by answering my questions you can acquire psychological insight into “mental illness:”

First, the statistics:

About 1% of psychiatrists (e.g., R.D.Laing, MD), 10% of clinical psychologists (T. Szasz, PhD, Fromm, PhD and others) and most behavioral psychologists (including myself) believe that purely psychological mental illness does not exist. What exist in the physiological realm is organic imbalance in the brain that can be treated well  with hormonal medication giving hope to patients. What exists in the psychological realm is lack of work drive and skills of sustaining employment and earning income and lack of social skills of sustaining a relationship. These skills are usually acquired in adolescence, but can be learned at any age.

George has been diagnosed as “mentally ill” because society believes that there is such a category in science to describe people who are not successful or have weird beliefs. This kind of thinking would make half the people in Calcutta, India mentally ill! George is now working in his brother’s warehouse for 2 years and is dating Susan, the manager. Is George really mentally ill or lucky to have a good brother? Was George mentally ill at all? Is he now an ex-mentally ill person, a mentally ill patient in remission, cured of the “disease”? I he mentally ill for ever, or has he never been mentally ill, and for the daring ones among you observing this situation; Is it ethical to label people who have problems in living as mentally ill? Would it make their lives easier or more difficult?  Is it a form of social prejudice to label people who act different from you and me as mentally ill? Think!

But, there is hope. Last month a committee of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) voted to reject the validity of many “mental illness” diagnoses in the fifth DSM issue (Diagnostic and Statistical manual of the American Psychiatric Association, 5th addition). Would that help you make up your mind?

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