Friday, May 1, 2015

Mental Illness 3 (It's All in Your Head!)

Zach explains where mental illness comes from, citing the commonly accepted notion that it is a physiological phenomenon. But also pointing out that mental illness can be useful. It can serve a purpose. Ethan agrees with him (for once), mentioning the creative juice of bipolar (not) illness. Zach talks about Will Hall, of Madness Radio fame, who has Schizophrenia and has managed to succeed in spite of it. What’s the difference between bipolar disorder and schizophrenia? But why does that matter anyway, when you can have your cake and eat it too with schizoaffective disorder!


Ethan tries to avoid the word, “illness,” substituting “bunny rabbits” instead. Zach suggests that brain damage is a mental illness. Justine disagrees vehemently. And Ethan agrees with her (as usual). He says that what sets a mental illness apart from brain damage is that there is no known origin for mental illness. 


Zach says: In Jungian psychology, all mental phenomena are teleological. Depression is the ego responding to negative circumstances of life. So depression is not actually an illness, it is a response to the world. Ethan thinks this is absurd. And plenty of people would agree that mental illness is purely a physiological phenomenon. Justine saves the day by seeing the truth in what Zach is saying, but asking, at what point do we pathologize depression. And why do we still feel like crap afterward?


Zach plays Socrates. Or Zachrates, as it were, worrying about the wetter wobble water. And claiming that the grass is always greener on the Zach side of the fence. Ethan tries to get everyone to take up arms, with or against mental illness. What do we do with it? Is it even a problem? Ethan mentions suffering, then explodes creatively all over the places. Vis-à-vis Vincent van Gogh. Take the down with the up, says Justine. Know thyself, says Zach. 


Does religion cure mental illness? Not the gunpoint style of religion, though. Can you really cure it? Zach speaks of the phases of life of a plant. Why? We may never know…What we do know is that the plant becomes too big. You can cure mental illness by finding the cause and becoming one with it. Like Luke Skywalker. Obviously! Justine hits the table, but learns to embrace it. 



Check out this episode!


  1. Ethan: (in response to the claim that depression is not an illness) My problem with the viewpoint had nothing to dow with the fact that I disagreed. It was that I agreed, but for a different reason. I would take this argument even further, and to more devastatingly controversial territory: An illness is not an illness. Which is to say, an illness is always a response. Illnesses are defined by the symptoms they evoke. But the evocation of symptoms has no cause other than a collision of bodies (human with virus, cell with cancer, mind with world). The mistake is made, not only by the mental healthcare world, but by the world as a whole. An illness is not a matter of fact or a state of being. It is a state of becoming. Which is as oxymoronic as it sounds. But for good reason! The collision of bodies that leads to an illness evolves just like any ecosystem would. Western medicine is the art of disrupting that ecosystem with something that destroys the "other" body.

    My one issue with Zach's point of view is that I don't think the mental healthcare industry is all that bad (no surprise there! The very fact that people with depression seek out the service of a professional should be enough to convince anyone that the industry deserves the role it has in a free market. In many cases, the proposed solution will be medication, probably because it is the most cost-effective. The only other solution, therapy, takes a lot of time and money. But if I'm reading Zach correctly, the moral should not be that psychiatrist=bad. The moral should be depression~good. Depression, like any other illness, is a sign that there is something going on in the world (or within the body) that disagrees with the body. The answer can take two forms. Either the Western way: change the world (or the body) to suit the body. Or the Eastern way: change the body to suit the world. You can see why we Westerners are so confused all the time. But in any case, something positive can come from depression. Namely, change. The only failure would be if the depression causes the person to stop moving, stop shaking, stop shifting. Stop changing. Oddly enough, this is most often the response we have.

  2. Zach: If we consider illnesses to span the range from being causes to being symptoms, depression is squarely in the latter category. But it is treated as if it's a cause, because it relieves the "it's your fault" burden off of people, and because there is a social taboo on being different. If we assume that half the time the cause of the depression (the mere symptom) is in the environment, we have to start accusing people other than the patient, up to and including society itself. Psychiatry is tragically biased against thinking of systems larger than the individual.

    But even if the cause does reside in the individual, in their inability to integrate their personality into their greater life, modern materialist medicine is no help. Like the story of the man who dropped his keys somewhere else and was asked why he was looking under a distant streetlamp for them, and whose answer was "This is where the light is!", Doctors pass out medications because they have no skill in helping people integrate their personalities. (Well, certainly not in my case, anyway!)

    The real difficulty of helping people integrate their personalities is that it's very difficult to distinguish where mental health symptoms originate - from within or outside of the patient. Moreover, if a symptom does come from outside the patient, doctors are loath to accuse the families and other social institutions of being in the wrong, as those are very often the source of their livelihood. And sometimes the symptoms originate within the doctor himself(!), via the projection of the doctor's own unconscious complexes.

    But the truth is I am particularly biased. It's technically the mental health system which keeps me alive, via Social Security Disability for mental illness (not any actual doctors per se). Perhaps I am merely projecting my personal experience of disappointment onto the mental health system, and without being able to see the good it does.