Leading mental health reform figures, including Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry, are misleading the public with dodgy statistics that suit their causes, a prominent psychiatrist says. Adelaide University Associate Professor Jon Jureidini claimed yesterday that Professor McGorry and National Advisory Council on Mental Health former chairman John Mendoza had exaggerated or misrepresented mental healthcare statistics during the reform debate.
And you thought Tom Szasz was yesterday’s hero? This paper brings us up to date. Future historians may well cast Thomas Szasz as an intrepid campaigner for the blindingly obvious: people do not have “mental illnesses” but experience a wide range of moral, interpersonal, social and political “problems in living.” All such problems concern, or have an impact on, our sense of who and what we are and could just as easily be called spiritual crises. However, despite his prodigious scholarly output, Szasz might well be written out of history, as punishment for his single-handed and persistent exposure of the greatest hoax of the modern age – the construction of the “myth of mental illness” and psychiatry’s ludicrous attempts to “treat” it.
“Only after we abandon the pretence that mind is brain and that mental disease is brain disease can we begin the honest study of human behaviour and the means people use to help themselves and others cope with the demands of living” —Thomas Szasz. Fifty years ago American Psychologist published a seminal article by the Hungarian-born psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, “The myth of mental illness” (Szasz, 1960). The thesis was elaborated at length in a book of the same name a year later. As the decade got into full swing, Szasz’s critique of psychiatric theory and practice was herded into the same conceptual basket as the musings of Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing, and his erstwhile friend and collaborator David Cooper. The quite different ideas of these men came to be bracketed inappropriately under the rubric of “anti-psychiatry”—an expression coined by Cooper though disclaimed by Laing and rejected outright by Szasz.
Why are troops killing themselves? The long awaited Army report, “Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, Suicide Prevention” considers the economy, the stress of nine years of war, family dislocations, repeated moves, repeated deployments, troops’ risk-taking personalities, waived entrance standards and many aspects of Army culture. What it barely considers is the suicide-inked antidepressants, antipsychotics and antiseizure drugs whose use exactly parallels the increase in US troop suicides since 2005.
Despite the public relations campaign aimed at “de-stigmatizing mental illness,” scores of permanent, stereotyping labels are assigned to what are basically annoying habits: clicking a pen repeatedly (anxiety), talking fast (hysteria), repeating a favorite song over and over (obsessive-compulsive disorder), wiggling in a chair (hyperactive). Even crazes like text-messaging are not immune from diagnosis. Attitudes that may be in bad taste or out-of-fashion, but certainly not “dangerous” or “wrong,” are also viewed with suspicion and sometimes criminalized.