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Bad Mental Things Come From Pain, Not Illness
By Terry Simpson
I think whether there is such a thing as mental illness, or not, is a crucial question, and the lack of a consistent line on it has made the survivors movement weak and fragmented. Its as if none of us really like the idea of mental illness but we dont have a better idea, so I thought Id thrown in my view of how we can develop a different way of looking at things. Personally I think the idea of mental illness is a conceptual mistake, and that what were really talking about is human suffering.
I heard that the Chinese have a way of describing a storm that the sky is ill, and I think thats a lovely descriptive image. We can use the mind is ill in a similar poetical way, but we shouldnt get confused that there is a real medical problem, in the same way that a storm in the sky is not something a GP can do anything about. Im sure theres no such thing as mental illness, but I dont want to suggest that peoples suffering isnt real. Rather that the suffering is the point. Its clear from our everyday life that our minds dont function well when we are hurt. When you bang your finger with a hammer, you dont think clearly for a while. On a deeper level with things like bereavement, the effect on our mental state is more pronounced. In the normal course of things we deal with the anguish by grieving, and we heal with time, friends, and various coping mechanisms. But if somehow the pain doesnt get dealt with, and accumulates, or if theres a major trauma, then I think it can lead to all the really serious bad mental things that we experience the vicious voices, delusions, hallucinations, fragmented thoughts, wanting to hurt ourselves etc. But these are symptoms of our pain, not of some kind of brain illness.
(Some people say they enjoy their madness and mania, and that its not about suffering at all, but I think if our experience of being high wasnt tinged with some kind of pain, we wouldnt be so inflexible, or make the rubbish decisions that get us into trouble!)
Illness is a concept that refers to the physical body. When you use it about anything else youre using an image, a metaphor. So the question whats the cure for mental illness? can never be satisfactorily answered. It leads to all the spurious solutions we know about. Its the wrong question. The question what can we do about human suffering? leads to far more interesting and fruitful answers.
So to sum up I think we need a paradigm shift throw illness in the dustbin and replace it with a concept based on suffering/trauma/distress whatever word doesnt make you cringe, but one that acknowledges the truth of the matter as far as I can see it. That we are dealing with human pain here, and not any kind of illness.
Also see Response by T Playford