Martijn Schirp • • 7 min read
Turning The Problem Around: Mental Health In A Sick Society
…and those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.
― Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein
The rise of people who are diagnosed with mental illnesses, especially children, has been unprecedented. ADHD, ADD, bipolar, depression are some of the current labels we slam on people who don’t quite fit our standards. The newest version of the psychologists bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DSM V), includes “psychosis risk syndrome” for teenagers who are a bit too eccentric and “hypersexual disorder” for men who show are too interested in sex. When is too much? That is up to the ‘experts’ to decide.
It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
― Jiddu Krishnamurti
It is quite clear that it is societies that determine where the line between normal and abnormal behavior is drawn. And thus every mental illness is invented, not discovered. Alan Watts points to the fact that the experts now have the same authority as the priests had in the Middle Ages. Both are educated people with high social standards, and both act with good intentions. Yet, only one seems absurd to us now. Of course you can say ‘well, nowadays they use science-based evidence!’ And then you would be right. But, even science can’t distinguish the real causes from the assumed.
Case counts of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have risen by nearly one-quarter in the past decade, but whether the increase was real or an artifact of more aggressive diagnosis and reporting remains uncertain, the CDC reported.
And you think science is purely objective? Think again. Science is a very human tool and humans can have ulterior motives. The revisions to the new DSM are not just based on the best scientific knowledge we currently posses. Many of the experts, the same ones who decide if you are healthy or not, are backed by some of the leading pharmaceutical companies. The same companies who can earn billions if their newly found ‘safe’ drug is included in the DSM V.
With such authority comes both power and responsibility. Psychiatrists can take away your freedom, declare you unsuitable for work or even crazy. They are a symptom of a, dare I say it, sick society which imperative is; conform to the norm! If you don’t, they either shut you completely out, or use powerful psychotropic drugs. Conform, or else.
Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden; Or, Life in the Woods
The increasing psychologizing of society extends this power. The different symbols we use to characterize our behaviour is now part of the self-reflexive consciousness of all classes of society. It is not uncommon to overhear someone who questions if they might have a depression and whether or not they should pop some pills to cure it. If we feel a bit different from normal, we are more likely to think we ourselves are the problem, not the situation we are in. And we judge others the same way.
It’s weird not to be weird.
― John Lennon
When someone around us does something that challenges our belief system, our assumptions of how the world is supposed to be and thus how we are supposed to behave, we say things like ‘that’s not normal!’ There is an implicit value judgement inherent in this statement. As if everything ab-normal is a bad thing. Yet, we never ask ourselves why we consider the things we do as normal. Because if we would, we might discover that what is normal changes over time, that it is a fluid concept, not a static one. We might discover there is no solid ground beneath our feet. While threatening to what we consider normal, it immediately opens up a space where we can question the status quo.
I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself.
― Rita Mae Brown
Because what is a sick society? It is a society where the norm is more important than the people it should protect. It is a place where what is considered normal is decided by corporations that see people as means, not as ends. It is a place that always externalizes the problem. It’s never the system, the schools, the economic system or the structure of government. It’s you. You aren’t a symptom, you are the cause. But as we have seen, this is just one perspective on the situation.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
We have a culture that treats people unnaturally, yet, when they don’t or can’t conform, they are the ones who aren’t normal? I think we might be looking at the problem in the wrong way and I think we have to pose the question: what are valid experiences? What measuring stick do we use when we decide which states of mind can stay, and which must go? What other perspectives can we take?
He who joyfully marches to music rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice.
― Albert Einstein
For example, even the most of our prominent members of our society are still sick according to Buddhist standards. They are narrow-minded, cling to false securities and constantly delude themselves in a world of symbols. According to Buddhists, only a rare few individuals, the ones who create their own norms and aren’t absorbed in the bubble of society, really reach their full potential as human beings.
Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.
― Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook: A Novel (P.S.)
Are more and more people bipolar or just Waking Up? Do we want to drug away their perspectives or are we in a dire need for some fresh points of view? Do we want to deny the fundamentally different way people can experience the world because it might threaten what is currently socially acceptable?
The plague of mankind is the fear and rejection of diversity: monotheism, monarchy, monogamy and, in our age, monomedicine. The belief that there is only one right way to live, only one right way to regulate religious, political, sexual, medical affairs is the root cause of the greatest threat to man: members of his own species, bent on ensuring his salvation, security, and sanity.
― Thomas Stephen Szasz
Do we want to stay measuring progress with the Gross Domestic Product? Or do we want to switch over to the Human Development Index?
Rebel children, I urge you, fight the turgid slick of conformity with which they seek to smother your glory.
― Russell Brand
Every time you decide to do something, take some time to consider the alternatives. Life is not set in stone, you can experiment, you can switch perspectives, you can use your freedom and create your own norms, your own rules for the game. And why shouldn’t you? You have one life, one blank canvas you can paint on. Don’t let your life be ruled by the pre-shaped patterns of history. There is an open sea of possibility, you only have to reach to grab it. But right now, I will leave you with one small piece of advice:
I’d like to repeat the advice that I gave you before, in that I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.
If you want to get more out of life, Ron, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty. And so, Ron, in short, get out of Salton City and hit the Road. I guarantee you will be very glad you did. But I fear that you will ignore my advice. You think that I am stubborn, but you are even more stubborn than me. You had a wonderful chance on your drive back to see one of the greatest sights on earth, the Grand Canyon, something every American should see at least once in his life. But for some reason incomprehensible to me you wanted nothing but to bolt for home as quickly as possible, right back to the same situation which you see day after day after day. I fear you will follow this same inclination in the future and thus fail to discover all the wonderful things that God has placed around us to discover.
Don’t settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon. You are still going to live a long time, Ron, and it would be a shame if you did not take the opportunity to revolutionize your life and move into an entirely new realm of experience.
You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.
My point is that you do not need me or anyone else around to bring this new kind of light in your life. It is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it, and all you have to do is reach for it. The only person you are fighting is yourself and your stubbornness to engage in new circumstances.
― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild