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Mind, Myth and Madness:

Are biological accounts of mental illness useful?

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  • The Debate

    Mind, Myth and Madness

    From schizophrenia to depression we assume our psychiatric diagnoses are real. But as the mental health epidemic turns global, the categories now seem like the cause. Is it time to abandon our biological account of mental illness? Or is it the best strategy we've got?

    The Panel

    Polly Toynbee interrogates Cambridge psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, author of Madness Explained Richard Bentall and Professor of Mental Health at King's College Dinesh Bhugra.

    In association with Guardian Live

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binra on 06/04/2016 11:51am

It's heartening to see sanity popping up here in comments.

Szats wrote 'the myth of mental illness' - because the thought, feeling and behaviours we ascribe now as 'mental illness' is not brain Disease or a disease in one person's mind. It is psychic-emotional conflict that found expression in displacement. That is, a relational Issue.

I wrote this piece this morning:

Though written in address to a collective insanity I felt to offer it into the conversation.

Mythic representations always involve evil at some level - but true creative relationship is not identified within symbol, image and concept - it's more of a dance!

If someone believes their story - even if it is a negative conviction by which they suffer, then it is saving them from something they fear more. But with willingness, such fears may be noticed, uncovered, acknowledged, and opened to greater perspective than when they imprinted our conditioning in some intensity pain or chaos that we deeply don't allow to feel again. The idea of forcing the believed evil out of existence is the attempt to get rid of something in ourself we haven't fully recognized, accepted and integrated. But anything we push away - pushes back because what is part of us is not get-riddable excepting by temporarily splitting off from awareness of it. This can seem a short term relief - but with long term consequences.

The more I live, the more I see that we operate 'unconsciously' within definitions, stories and beliefs that we picked up or chose for whatever reasons - but which are not truly serving or representative of who I feel and know myself to be - in the simple signature joy of my being. For I Know Me without having to think about it in anything that truly resonates with who I am.

Trying to operate within a story that is not me as someone I am not - is not something I really want to succeed in - and so I trust that the dissonance of that will wake me up if I get lost - so I can tune in and grow an honesty of self that doesn't have to justify itself in the validations of others. The difficult part is that this is amidst the dance of life that often seems chaotic and threatening or uncomfortable when I grip down in control rather than trust I know how to be, what to say or not say and when to leave without demonizing, invalidating or blaming what I don't prefer. I have to feel and find and be my way - and I have to trust that others are finding theirs - and if we resonate in synchronicity of helpfulness - gratitude - but not a giving away of my inner listening - for some 'mind' that gets high or low on things that come and go.

When there is fear of inner listening, then someone else listening with you will likely help - if you are ready to grow in trust. If they judge and lay trips - choose someone else - you cant be a support-prop for their unresolved issues and find true support for your need.

Need is good - it means desire is moving in you and you are alive - not lacking Life. How Life fulfils is more of a journey of willingness than a technique, method or applied intervention - though any of these may serve in their right context and timing.

Trying to control Life becomes obsessed in forms and loses the feeling that is the true meaning of forms of things. Damned up feelings are denied and feared feelings - so allowing feeling is very difficult to accept in movement - because it triggers all the denial scripts including behaviours that try to kill or stop the pain or rage or terror - but THAT we feel is opening a space of awareness and perspective in which WHAT we feel can find acceptance - and its underlying script or story can be refined, changed, left for a new one - as you now feel free to.

There are also biological influences to brain and cell function. These are our 'environment' of exposure to and ingestion of, imbalance, deprivation of nutrition and sustenance, toxicity and chronic emotional anxiety or acute intensity of traumatic event.

But if we try to make something of life into THE Answer, we make a problem of it. If there is an Answer - it is being you - without need of apology or justification - which is to say free of the blame-mind - which cant be 'pretended away', But we can release of forgive ourself for using it and getting entangled in it.

cvur on 08/03/2016 5:33pm

Dear Binra,

Thank you Very much, you said so clear what a whole concept was of what now only a story of the death of one extraordinary artistémoire-dun-grand-artiste-431238670317898/?ref=bookmarks

*** [1]

They thought - he was a man!

And forced him to die.

He is dead. The end.

- Cry for the angel, cry!

Before the fall of night,

He praised the evening splendor.

Now, three waxen lights

- Superstitious - tremble.

He emitted bright light;

Its rays made the snow smolder.

Only three candles shine –

For him! For the sun-holder!

Oh, will you look - how

His eyelids are flattened!

Oh, will you look - how

His wings are shattered!

People pray. The priest

Reads to the congregation.

- The poet lies deceased,

Celebrates resurrection.

May 9, 1916

By Marina Tsvetaeva

Translation by Andrey Kneller

JRDAGO on 05/03/2016 9:44pm

There is just one terror to be afraid about… it happens when we get fear about our own thoughts.

Maybe the begin of psychological problems happens when one, as a kid, believes on thoughts that probable fit only to its own inside world and further because wrong traditions creates the impression that that thoughts could be real and would make anybody else also scared.

So, unfortunately by isolation, such situations might turning one’s internal world into an absolute “trap”, didn’t allow those solitary fantasies be shared with anybody else in order to check their real possibilities.

How couldn’t psychological points influence the wisdom in the World?

If we look into the history of humanity we may notice that happened many factors driving us to situations of great loss and afterwards we practiced huge efforts to comprehend about mistakes which might happen and many times looking for support we tried to find better philosophies of life, trying to establish back harmony among social relationships.

Probably us, adults, who are reading this text and understand its contents may sort out such dreadful situations, but imagine kids growing up in a world controlled as anybody around them being potential treats. So, that will lead basically many of those kids into isolation and this condition may trigger them into kinds of schizophrenia, as it was explained above and it could become a big trapper.

We can imagine that as far we can’t change the actual scenario the next generations may suffer in order to sort out distortions in their perceptions and about their feelings to be elements of a sociable world and principally to understand how to get integrated in a Natural Life. Or, what wells could be expected about?

EmmyF on 04/03/2016 10:06am

I can't agree with Simon here - drugs aren't treated as last resorts by medics. All of my friends have been handed anti-depressants by their GP's at the first signs of distress. THIS is what needs to change. Until we know what the problem is, we can't hand out 'solutions'.

lizzyn on 03/03/2016 10:30pm

Richard Bentall warns in this debate that if coming off anti-psychotics it is very important to do so very slowly or you can make things a lot worse. I would really like to know if he is talking about the short-term effect or if he means a risk of permanent "worsening".

PaulQuigg on 02/03/2016 11:17am

Bhugra is great in this. Given that so much of our scientific research into mental health is in its infancy, it's of paramount importance to be cautious and skeptical of the generalisations made following drug trials.

binra on 02/03/2016 12:23am

Hi Simon, you are welcome and thankyou for your appreciation.

The experiencing of a capacity for thought to deny thought is a curious one, for by defining something as invalid, it can be denied consciousness while remaining active but 'split off'. Identifying in rigidly defended concept 'does' this automatically - so if you identify a belief that you should or must be loving - then thought that does not fit or align in the currently accepted definition of loving may seem hateful and shameful and damning.

Power play or the struggle to prevail - seems to be in the personal will, but beneath that is the attempt of the mind to mask and unify a sense of conflicted incompleteness and the persona operates the sense of private power or capacity to maintain the conditions of continuity for such a sense of self - by whatever means are available.

So on one 'level' there is the character-play in the world and beneath that the assertion of such identity as a defence - including an offensive or pre-emptive defence! Part of our human condition is of becoming so identified in mask - or personality construct - that it usurps our true presence. Presence may be thoughtless or spontaneously unself-conscious - and is characterized by a quality of Idea in expression that has no separate 'thinker' - whereas a presentation is implicitly an assertion of thinking that seeks validation because it is not aligned or at rest in the movement of an integrity of being.

Thought or indeed consciousness can limit and deny itself, split itself into conflicting fragments and generate experience of almost complete lack of awareness - but it does so out of Whole Cloth - and cannot actually become something truly else than conscious-ness. Though belief operates our perceived reality until it can be more consciously owned, accepted and in a sense, evolved.

To maintain our sense of identity formed over and against feared or judged 'others', we play out power over our world in persisting judgement and of course meet reactive opposition, and so have evolved strategies of coping - and fighting or resisting! - that effectively ensure that my will is done - even amidst experience of victimhood or suffering. But such a 'will' is not a free willingness of an undefended presence - but more a re-enactment of separation trauma.

The imprint of such trauma is one of feeling denied - but beneath this is the sense-recognition of denying or usurping Life. These two are OneThing - but a split mind keeps them apart. And in general terms we shift between victim and victimizer, attempting to escape or deny the pain of the latter, and hide in justifications that themselves are hidden - in the latter.

So having let my words flow in a willingness to hopefully meet your question - I trust that some reflection of our predicament (predicated self and world) is shared - within a greater context of a prior and already wholeness - that we deny in the belief that our little mind or life would be overwhelmed or lost otherwise - and so are in a sense at war with our Self. (Playing ALL the roles).

True self-acceptance is not an act of the personality level - but a recognition and release of the personality level from a function it can not and never has been able to fulfil. But which cannot be released while we take it as exclusively identifying our being.

We all contain a mixture of different archetypes and have resonant correspondences. In that sense we are all fragments of a larger whole.

That I am is wordlessly evident or obvious - but anything added to that phrase to qualify it - immediately defines in a way that both opens perspective experience but if identified in exclusively MUST deny all that the definition fails to include - and that first and foremost is Self-awareness Itself - which is not a concept or a thing or anything that can be separated from in order to 'make a self' apart. But is Felt Life or Felt Existence in the act or extension of itself in creation.

If I wrote overmuch - just attend the parts - if any - that reflect a movement in your own curiosity.

Simon Whitaker on 01/03/2016 4:20pm

Hey Binra,

Very struck by your comment, rare in internet comment-work to see something as finely honed. I'd like to follow up a minor point but one which seems to ground some of the work you've done here - you talk about the exception to the rule of denying the power of thought; can I ask what you refer to with 'ITS power play'? It seems important in being able to understand the particular character of this exception, and therefore also the character of the dominant denial, in your understanding.

binra on 01/03/2016 2:19pm

The desire to find biological causes and corresponding 'magic bullet' drugs is part of the materialist mindset - by which power of thought is used to deny the power of thought - excepting a separated off assertion of judgement that masks ITS power play beneath masking or rationalisations of justifiction.

This identity in conflict is mental illness - albeit normalized as second nature. Its complex convoluted 'dynamic' of expression is reflected in the forms of our world-feedback - including our investigations of the natural world.

The gut-brain connection is now being recognized. The heart's brain perhaps less so. But what we have is an interrelated whole upon which the idea or concept of self interjects and is imposed. This 'control mind' is a socialisation process that has disconnected from true relationship with any larger relational environment and is self-referencing and self-validating in dissociation that actively denies and conflicts with the natural movement of our being - not least by redefining the natural movement of being in fearful, guilt-inducing and negative or invalidating terms.

And so the symptoms of (a call for) health are defined in terms of a war to eradicate symptoms - as if health is defined by an absence or avoidance of symptoms.

Being negatively defined is a false foundation - a running away from feared-self that can never escape the foundation it drags along with it.

Embracing feelings that are fearful, guilted, angry - within a context of a willingness to heal, is a relational or cultural support that is generally absent in our society - and so there is an added fear of societal denial - indeed so strong is this that the fear of being crazy fuels whatever else is going on and can make a clinical diagnosis feel like a much safer identity.

So there it is - the opting for a 'safer identity' calls forth the 'industry' to provide it. But because it is only a temporary expedient and not a treatment delivering a resolution, it builds up further layers and levels of symptoms of dysfunction.

Now we have a situation where if the truth of the pharmacological mindset was exposed, our 'economy' would crash. Our economy is predicated on sickness, war and fraud and the longer it runs on such a foundation the further it sucks out the life and the resources in a plunder that feeds the cancer - not the cure.

Relationships of integrity and trust are useful. But without first opening to such honesty within ourselves, a false notion of control will persist in interjecting and imposing itself on that or those who cant or wont fit such definitions.

Within the context of the above there are very many responsibilities we have regarding the protection and maintenance of health - and I mean Health - not an absence of symptoms that are themselves seen as an absence of drugs.

darek on 01/03/2016 2:11pm

Love deficient, starved of happiness, poisoned with lies, we fear that what we believe is, is not.

Madness comes from the fear of losing sanity.

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