20131204

The Craziness of Culture (satire)

One common misconception is that all mentally ill people are unpredictable and violent. Our society has an insatiable appetite for real-life horror stories about rapists, serial killers, and pedophiles, and the media is happy to provide us with them. As a result, we tend to put everyone with psychiatric problems under one label: crazy.

However, different cultures have different concepts of what constitutes a mental illness. Take suicide, for example. In Japan, suicide is, in most cases, not considered problematic, rather it can be an honorable act committed to save face or for a noble cause. Similarly, while the Koran prohibits suicide, "suicide bombers" are not generally considered "suicides" by their zealous supporters – they are martyrs for their cause. But in North America, someone who attempts suicide will likely be diagnosed with some form of psychological problem.

Some cultures are more susceptible to certain types of illness than others. Anorexia and bulimia are largely afflictions of the western world, while Japan has a whole separate set of disorders, many of which stem from their cultural expectation of hard work. One commonly documented Japanese condition called hikikomori (similar to agoraphobia) is characterized by a withdrawal from society due to stress and is said to affect large numbers of teenaged boys.

What about addictions? In North America, we believe in possession of a different kind: drugs, gambling, alcohol, or food are thought of as diseases that take over the victim and are difficult to expel. Again, we remove blame, but is it accurate to put a gambling addiction on par with, say, schizophrenia?
Samantha Shepard, They're Possessed?, Medhunters dot com

Then again, is it accurate to use a manual of disorders decided by committee to diagnose what might be cultural eccentricities?

The social stigma of mental illness reflect a phobia of the mentally ill, a fear of psychosis which, instead of being relieved by education, is usually left to fester and sometime harm people who are themselves more harmless than the people who fear them.

Even people who are emotionally disturbed are loathe to admit that they might be going off the deep end, sometimes until it's too late. They minimize their suicide attempts and grow fearful that any outside inquiry might expose their suffering to the world.

Some of them even grow to fear strangers who often are concerned for their well-being, mainly due to the stigmatizing of their life.

Even though my own labelling of culture and society as the hotbed of mental illness is reactive, I also admit that both culture and society can be the source of mental health.

For eccentricity is merely an abnormal focus on behaviours that were once fulfilling but may have now become obsessions, like one has become possessed by some demon.

The ironic thing is, in ancient Greek society, it was once believed that each of us was born with a guardian angel which were called "daimons" - yes, the same modern-day demons that ignorant religious people pretend exist.

Sometimes, in respecting the expert's advice, we take it too far and reify his opinion, making it like a talisman. We do this with the advice of doctors when we interpret the directions on the label of medication — "take 1 capsule twice daily" — as meaning once in the morning and once at night when it could also mean taking two capsules at bedtime.

Likewise, it seems like psychiatry is turned into religion when psychiatrist rely too much on the DSM rather than on gut instinct.

From my perspective, the DSM is like a "Bible", the disorders being "deities" similar to "daimons." I feel they originate in behaviours used by people "diagnosed" with a "disorder" which soon stopped working to "protect" them from the suffering caused by "facing reality."

In short, the DSM descriptions interpret "daimons" which "possess" people as symptoms which involve fear, anxiety, insomnia, hypomania, mania, and sometimes psychoses.

This makes psychiatrists "exorcists".

Think about it: your doctor or psychiatrist replaces the priest. Your medications are the means to "exorcise" demons with names like influenza, chronic fatigue syndrome, cardiovascular disease and so on, as well as mental disorders such as schizo-affective, bipolar and so on.

For all the medications are for are to control and manage disease or behaviour so it doesn't annoy the neighbours.

Cultures which have a place for mental illness are the shamanic ones. If you have depression and aren't out harvesting the grain by hand like everyone else, then you could trade your produce for a special ritual that helps get rid of the "evil spirits". After a few hours, you are cured and ready to get up and help harvest the crops.

Today, civilized society waits until simple depression morphs into a mental illness sometimes needing a trip to the hospital and 48 hours in the psychiatric ward.

A person could cling all they want to the false belief that their childhood experiences are more important than making new ones that help us get over the trauma and transform the negativity into positive benefit.

If he were to tell any psychiatric doctor or nurse of that trauma, they will react out of fear to hospitalize him. This is because the telling of the long-lost trauma results in traumatizing the caregiver.

So, the mental health consumer learns quickly to deny the symptoms that are manageable, and tries hard not to perpetuate that trauma in her daily life. She does so by complying with medication and therapy.

In due time, mental health is maintained when the consumer is able to be crisis-free for more than six months.


Originally written: April 19, 2007 at 4:15 PM
Updated: February 1 at 9:50 PM


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