Psychiatry and the Marketing of Madness

Are You Mentally Ill?

So with our little lesson of human conditioning in mind, who is to say that education and state institutions, as well as the materials used in these environments to “teach” the student or the citizen, are not flavored specifically to instate a pastiche of ideology sympathetic to hidden interests?

Consider the domain of psychiatry and psychiatric illness as an allusion to the above mentioned. Today we hear of multitudes of mental illnesses to the extent that these psychiatric labels have become normalized in the minds of those who receive treatment for them as well as those who know one who is afflicted with the alleged disorder. Are we to presume that this normalcy is the result of a truthful representation of our reality, or have we been conditioned to believe mental illness is largely ubiquitous among the populations of the world? One seldom asks on what grounds another is considered mentally ill.

This is not to connote that there is a global absence of mental illness, for to be sure illness of the mind is a reality. But how many of these psychological disorders are truly aberrations in the human constitution and not symptoms of typical vicissitudes that color human experience? Ronald J. Comer, author of the collegiate level textbook Abnormal Psychology explains that no definite consensus on what constitutes abnormal psychology/mental illness has ever existed.(1) In light of this, researchers of mental illness have resorted to establishing generalized criteria that may bridge cultural biases of normalcy for assessing the presence of mental illness in an individual.

These criteria consist of deviancy, distress, dysfunction, and danger.(2) In other words a mental illness exists if the thoughts and behaviors exhibited by an individual deviate from cultural conceptualizations of normalcy, are psychologically distressing, are dysfunctional in relation to the paradigms of normalcy respecting social roles such as work, family standing, and interactions with other members of society, and are dangerous  to the individual and others with whom he/she makes contact. Respecting these criteria, it is easy to see that mental illness is more or less culturally defined and not an objectively defined human phenomenon and this notion is resounded by prominent psychiatrists along with commoner opinions.

Comer relates the mental illness theory of Thomas Szasz which emphasizes the notion that mental illness for the most part is not an objective human phenomenon stating that:

“the deviations that society calls abnormal are simple ‘problems in living’, not signs of something wrong within the person. Societies, [Szasz] was convinced, invent the concept of mental illness so that they can better control or change people whose unusual patterns of function upset or threaten the social order.”(3)

The Bible of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM-5)

The Diagnostic Statistical Manual 5th Edition, is the psychiatrist’s oft-used resource for the diagnosis of mental illness. Looking through it I discover that the manual would have me believe that if I experience loss of appetite, low energy, and disinterest in my usual activities, I may be clinically depressed, and this exhibition of symptoms may warrant the administration of a drug for their alleviation (along with therapy but I am pessimistic on this matter). Now in the hypothetical instance that this rash diagnosis besets me, I would be quick to point out that the act comprises an issue of fallacious distortions relating to the touted science and efficacy of pharmacological treatment. Allow me to explain.

The Biological Model of Mental Illness

In the practice of medicine there are objective, mathematically premised tests that soundly support the conclusion that any individual does or doesn’t have a medical disorder. Biological samples are collected including urine, blood, and cerebrospinal fluid which are then objectively assessed with numerical relationships. The doctor can then tell the patient the more or less exact quantities of enzymes, electrolytes, blood proteins, etc. and explain with the support of historical precedents the likely implications of test results. In psychiatry however, no such tests exist.4

The entire paradigm by which many psychiatric drugs are validated as effective (for example, the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibition thesis) is not only vague in explaining how specific mood disorders relate with different concentrations of serotonin, but there is also no effective measure of assessing brain serotonin levels.

Unlike a general medical practitioner, a psychiatrist does not use objective tests in patient assessments such as drawing fluid from the brain and after analysis state, “Well your serotonin levels are pretty low.”

How then are these psychiatrists to accurately prescribe drugs which fit an illness of the biological model, if they have no measure or standard of “adequate” serotonin?

Of course I am not a scientist, but it appears clear to he who values measurement, that the psychiatric drug prescription process is not a science. Rather, it is a process of trial and error in effecting a subjectively/ culturally defined “good” outcome. One might object to such an assertion on the premises that these drugs are evaluated in clinical trials mandated by the FDA, and therefore they must be “safe and effective”.  But I must ask how many instances have been recorded in which members of the drug review panel were found to have corporate ties and interests to drug companies, thus leading to a sure relegation of the drug to the categorical FDA approved list? I assure you that a brief literature/internet search will yield many such cases where the bottom line in the drug approval process isn’t always the safety of the patient, rather the area of concern can be the effect of the drug approval on corporate profits.

Have we been conditioned to accept this pervasive notion of psychiatric drugs as human benefactors? It is quite possible. But perhaps you should look for yourself. One need not search any farther for mechanisms suited for conditioning opinions and behaviors than the black box that dominates the center of each U.S. citizen’s living room.

Notes

  1. Comer, R. (2012). Abnormal Psychology. p.2
  2. Ibid. p.3-5
  3. Ibid. p.5
  4. The Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights. No Medical Tests Exist. DOA 5/13/16 https://www.cchrint.org/psychiatric-disorders/no-medical-tests-exist/
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