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.