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This paper was presented at the ‘Mad Medicine Seminar’ held in University College Cork on 24 September 2011. It has since been published on the internet. IAM WELL aware that the title of this paper may appear to be provocative but my hope is that those who are prepared to read it will bear with me and see for themselves the context within which I am asking this question. The world is a sea of troubles and we all have to face suffering in various ways as we go through life. We have to adapt to these circumstances as best we can. People use all kind of ways to try to manage; some work better than others, while some are counterproductive and land us in trouble. The latter are usually ways of attempting to avoid suffering by taking the easy way out, rather than by accepting the situation and trying to deal with it. This avoidance and failure to accept what life throws at us usually only leads to greater suffering in the long run. Before and after birth, on to adult death, human beings experience things that cause them suffering. But this is a fact of life which is often overlooked. The simple truth is, it is only when we suffer and accept it that we grow and develop as persons. There is a current notion in society that we are entitled to happiness and, when this is not our experience we feel something is wrong that must be put right. Some can bear more than others but suffering may become so unbearable that we want to be rid of it. It is often at this point that we seek help. This is usually from one of the agencies of the health services. In the majority of cases, this will be our general practitioner. 39. Mental Illness –The Great Illusion? 504 A Process of Definition What happens when a person who is emotionally troubled goes to their general practitioner seeking help? If, for example, you are feeling depressed as a result of some reverse in your fortunes, or because of some unresolved trauma in the past, you may struggle on for a time hoping that things will improve. If this doesn’t happen, sooner or later someone is likely to say, ‘I think you need help. Perhaps you should go and see a doctor’. If, in the first instance, you present with a physical symptom that is crying out to draw attention to an underlying emotional problem, the GP may miss this connection altogether and go off in a wrong direction, initiating a lot of physical investigations that reveal nothing. More often, he may sense there is an underlying problem. Then a process of definition is set in train. When you see the GP, he says that he thinks you may be suffering from ‘depression’ and refers you to a psychiatrist. Now the definition is raised to a new level, as the doctor has made a diagnosis that you are suffering from a ‘depressive illness’, a case of ‘clinical depression’. This is seen as an objective mental illness, presumably the result of a biochemical imbalance, that is partly due to genetic influences and is a true medical illness, just like diabetes or tuberculosis. This is not the ordinary depressed feeling we all suffer from, periodically, in dealing with the difficulties and troubles of life. Typically, if a person is ‘clinically depressed’, they are told that, whenever they feel a depression descending on them, they must contact their psychiatrist and commence the appropriate ‘treatment’. It is because of this, more than anything else, that many people are gradually entrained into a pathway of sickness. Perceiving themselves as ‘ill’ and helpless, they gradually move into a state of chronic ill-health. The situation is now taken out of their hands, as it is the psychiatrist’s or doctor’s job to prescribe the appropriate treatment – antidepressant medication, mood stabilizers, ECT, or whatever. This strikes at the very heart of the principle of ‘self-organization’ and one’s responsibility for the management of one’s own health. Later, if, as a result of the continuing antidepressant medication, one becomes elated, the diagnosis may be elevated further to that of bi-polar disorder and so it goes on, with a relentless drift into chronicity. This has reached its logical end-point, in that these drugs have now drifted onto the 505 Mental Illness – The Great Illusion streets, where they are becoming a major...


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