Saturday, June 9, 2012

Mental Health

The Australia Medical Association plans to start seeking out mental illness in three-year-olds.  They want to find the mentally ill kids when they're young—the whole early intervention thing.  I can't say I love the idea, but it gives me an excuse to talk about mental illness. I think about it a lot. I've been trying to figure out my opinion about it.

It's hard because I feel I often contradict myself.

I've often spoken out against psychiatric medication, and I've gotten people really angry because of that.  I'm thinking now that it's not the drugs I'm against, per se, but more the labeling of people as "sick".  

One thing I've concluded lately is there's two ways of looking at mental problems. One is a very biological approach.  People act in a disturbed or annoying way because chemicals in their brain are messed up.  This is likely caused by genes, but could also be caused by diet and environmental issues. 

I think that can happen in some instances. But I tend to side with the people that see things in a more social-psychological way.  I say that people's brain chemistry changes because they've encountered stressful and/or horrific things in their life.

I dealt with these arguments during my eating disorder days. I argued with people who insisted that eating disorders are completely genetic. It's a gene that makes people starve themselves.  It has nothing to do with family life, the media, or anything in the disordered person's world.

Now I do believe that genes cause us to be born with certain personalities, and those personalities cause us to receive stimuli in a way that will affect us differently than others. It's a circular thing.  

The past week or so I've been obsessing a bit about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  I'm fascinated by it.   I'm especially interested in how it seems many sufferers are  insistent on it being labeled as a physical disorder rather than a mental one.  This is despite the fact that science has yet to find strong evidence of it being a disease that originated with a biological cause. There's no medical test for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Doctors give the diagnosis when they've ruled out other illnesses.  

Now science doesn't know everything.  Someday they might discover that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is caused by some specific virus. And the sufferers who believe it's a physical illness rather than a mental one will feel vindicated.

For now, though.   We don't know that. So why not consider the idea that it might be caused by psychological issues?

I've heard one argument saying that scientific studies have shown changes in the brain.

Wait.  Here we go.  I found an article about the study I was thinking about. People with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome have reduced activity in the part of their brain that deals with rewarded-feelings.

So it's not an imaginary disease! It's real! The brain study proves it.

No, it's not an imaginary disease. But that doesn't mean it's a problem that originated with biology.

Correct me if I'm wrong.  But with the other common mental disturbances, isn't there a change in brain chemistry?    Do scientists not see brain-differences in people with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc?

Why can't their be a mental problem that causes people to be extremely horribly tired?  Think about how many physical problems anxiety causes. Your heart can speed up.  You can sweat. You can feel numbness and tingling. You can get headaches. You can faint.

The list goes on and on.  

Our emotions can have a huge effect on how we're feeling physically. That's probably how Aboriginal Australians can kill people by pointing the bone at them.

My feeling about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is certain people are born with a certain personality that leads them to stressing out and falling apart.  They're not crazy. They're not imagining things. Their stress has just effected their body in a really shitty way.

Again.  I could be wrong.  But either way. I don't think it matters if a disease comes from a virus or our emotions. People who feel like shit deserve empathy and understanding.

As for preschoolers with mental illness.  I'd say it IS likely that doctors can pinpoint children who are more likely to have difficulty in life.  I'd hate to call them ill, though. I think I'd prefer to call them high-need, spirited, challenging, etc.

Life is hard for everyone,  but it might be extra hard for these kids because of their personality types.   They might handle things less well than kids with other personality types.

Does intervention help?

Maybe.  I'd be okay with it if it didn't involve illness labels.

I kind of wish someone talked to my parents about my issues when I was a preschooler.  And maybe they did.

Maybe what I should say is I wish someone gave them more guidance in handling my issues. I wish someone explained to them that I was super sensitive, super imaginative, extra fearful, etc. I wish someone gave them more guidance on how to handle that.

But I don't think I needed medication.  And I don't think I really needed a label of illness.

I've been very angry at my parents for not believing I had an eating disorder.   I felt very invalidated by their reaction to me coming out of the eating disorder closet.  Now I'm thinking that their interpretation of my symptoms is not an issue.  I think I had a disorder.  They didn't think so.   That doesn't matter, though.   What DOES matter is I received very little empathy and understanding from them.   I don't need them to say, Yes, you had a disorder.  It's a true and serious psychological problem.  We believe you. But I did need them to say something like, We understand you're struggling.  We feel for you.   Is there anything we can do to help?  

Edited to Add:   I had to rush to finish because it was dinner time.   I feel I've been confusing and contradictory again.   I wish I could be more clear, but I can't because I'm not clear yet myself.   And maybe I never will be.

I do have some other stuff to add to the mess, though.

One day, one of my kinfolk announced on Facebook that her son had finally gotten an Aspergers diagnosis.   Another one of my kinfolk responded by saying something like I'm so sorry.    Kinfolk #2 was trying to be kind.   I'm sure.   But I found her words offensive.   It was pity she was showing.   I'd interpret her words as a message like, Sorry you got stuck with a sick, inferior child.

There's a big difference between pity and empathy.

If it was me making the Facebook announcement I would have preferred a comment along the lines of.   Yikes. You're in for a ride. There'll be bad times and good times.  Good luck to you!

So maybe it's not labeling I dislike. Maybe it's the idea behind labeling.

It's the idea that labeled people are inferior to those not labeled.

I would rather just say that we all have our strengths and challenges.  And yeah some challenges make life very difficult for people and their loved ones.   We might give them a label in order to make it easier to understand and help them.   But that doesn't mean they're inferior to people who have not yet received a label.  

The main point is we're ALL humans.   And the human experience....well, it's a miracle that anyone comes out of it with their sanity.  


  1. Definitely a chicken/egg thing. I think it's all caused by food allergies ♥

  2. HappyOrganist,

    I don't think food allergies is the answer to everything; but I think it could be part of the least for some people.