A Question


…from an epistemological and phenomenological point of view:

Psychology, and psychiatry, are in turmoil. For decades these fields have been guided by the so-called biomedical paradigm. And the popularity of the neurosciences fortified the position of this working model, since all kinds of measuring and visualizing became available – which led practitioners to believe that psychiatry definitely was on its way to assume the mantle of the natural sciences.

But as they say: there’s a crack in everything. Numerous experts in the environments of mental illness raised doubts about the validity and the value in general of describing OCD, depression, ADHD, autism, and addiction (to name a few) in terms of: imbalances of chemical compounds in the brain (only); which imbalances just needed re-dressing with medication, and then improvement in one’s condition would surely ensue.

This is essential:

every psychiatric diagnosis is also a social diagnosis. For one can only speak of a ‘disorder’ if there is ‘order’, normality. And normality in human terms can only be seen as ‘that which is socially seen as normal’, ‘that what is seen as common and decent’, ‘that what most of us feel, think, say, and do. The average.

By definition: a person all alone can never be ‘mentally ill’, or ‘insane’, for there is no ‘other’, there are no ‘others’, to compare her or him with.

This leads me to the following: the critical psychiatrists in our time note that many people diagnosed as mentally ill nowadays aren’t ill because there is something different in their genes, or because they show neurochemical imbalances. Sure, their levels of neurotransmitters may be different from non-depressed  people (by way of example). There may be an association between those imbalances and their feeling unwell.

Note that I use the word: association (which says: two things are being observed at roughly the same point in time). And that I don’t speak of a causal relationship (as in: a lack of freely available serotonin in the brain causes depression (or OCD, others).

What the neurobiological-psychiatric approach does is: search for the causes of illness inside the patient’s brain (nervous system, body).

Critical psychiatrists look first  and foremost to the social environment. That is a deep and rich field to inspect. Think of a child in school, being bullied and harrassed every day. That child may (almost certainly) develop shyness, anxiety, and symptoms of depression.

That child would, in some test or another, show a lack of free serotonin in the brain. That child would probably get ‘better’ after prolonged use of the modern-day antidepressants.

Do we call that: healing, recovery?

I don’t. Because the real cause of the child’s maladies isn’t being addressed at all in my example. The real cause, the bullying, is being replaced (by the bio-psychiatrist) by a second, and false cause: that lack of serotonin.

Poverty, social inequality, unequal access to education, and many more social and environmental forms of injustice are potent drivers of mental illness. As we all know, our tragic times are especially tainted by these enormous problems.

My question for today: do any of you recognize something in these remarks of mine, out of your own experience? Did you feel at some point in time: my problems, my OCD, my depression is kind of a response to things that happened to me from the outside, I’m certainly not to blame myself? Or even: my illness might be an alarm signal of my whole being, my body itself: I am merely reacting to bad things in the outside world (inappropriate, angry, evil acts by other people)?

See: depression and anxiety can have a strong signaling function. They ring an alarm bell: that what threatens my peace of mind and well-being must stop!

Well… does all of the above ring a bell with you, dear readers?

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