Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Beyond Psychiatric “Sickness”

Originally posted on September 19, 2013

A friend wrote and said, “Recently there was a finding that male holocaust survivors lived longer than male Jews who left Europe before WW II. A sociologist speculated that the holocaust survivors became more adept at survival under extreme stress and called it “post traumatic growth.” Note that it was not labeled as a disorder. My friend re-stated that we should not attempt to define all human conditions as illness. We should not impose “medical” values on society. When people behave in a way you don’t like, you can say, “There’s a  name for that” and they may stop. Given that, my friends wrote that he doesn’t think official diagnoses are appropriate for human activity. Hitler and Assad were and are not crazy,  they’re just very evil. I agreed in general, and noted also that there are many sub-categories that hover between “sick” and well, such as addictions.

Some conditions are mainly biological, others mainly a deep suscepti-bility to certain stimuli that are very much helped by medication (which are treating this sensitivity, not treating “depression”). Some conditions will never respond to any amount of psychoanalysis or psychotherapy without pharmaco-therapy. On the other hand, other conditions treated by pharmaco-therapy will hardly respond because the basic psycho-logical set and (more often) socio-cultural field has not been changed.

Even people who have experienced the trauma of major mental illness need supportive psychotherapy to rebuild the post-traumatic experience of their minds having almost destroyed them and their families. That supportive therapy need not follow any school of thought.

I want to emphasize, though, that people in many fields have observed that trauma need not lead to illness. My friend notes—and I agree—that involvement treating mental illness has provided lots of understanding of ourselves, even though the exaggeration or stunted-ness in certain people can help therapists understand the lesser types of psychopathology. But I don’t agree with the assertion that “Most mentally sick people are simply those on the tail of a bell shaped curve which we define as normal. The strict division between sick and normal is resorted to mostly by professionals.” This viewpoint is a psychoanalytically informed view, circa 1960, that thought that severe mental illness is just severe neurosis. A lot of evidence has accumulated that major mental illness can have many features that are quite different. Smallpox is not just severe heat rash.

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