Is Mental Health a Misnomer or a Misappropriation?
I published this in a medical forum.
I have recently seen numerous billboard advertisements about mental health around Toronto. There is something that bothers me about them. The billboards scream mental health but the descriptions immediately launch into mental illness. It is almost a message that mental health is a condition that must be expected, and restored if it happens to be compromised.
Okay. We are used to health care as the sine qua non of medicine, the profession. It is used to mean the caring for physical health through a restoration of what should be there naturally. Physical health is a right. The body arrives as a fully formed system (with some occasional flaws that become part of the whole). Health care is the restoration of that form when it becomes distorted. So health care is a restoration. The mind does not arrive fully formed. So there can be no expectation or right. Feral children have shown us that. Leave a child without guidance or stimulation and the child, though capable of growing physically, remains stunted mentally and emotionally. Therefore, mental health is not concordant with physical health. It, thus, cannot be assumed to be a disease or illness when it is not sufficient. Farther along, we know that we can define and identify both the physical form and its components. We have never been able to define the mental form or its components. Freud tried by defining components– namely ego, id, conscious, subconscious– that remain suppositions because they have never been measured.
Therefore, “mental health” must be a misnomer. Or if it is not, it must remain as a state that can neither be distorted nor brought into fullness by removing a presumed distortion. Mental health, therefore, must be an objective, not something that should emerge if a distortion is removed. The mind arrives empty. It must be filled. If, then, it is not filled or sufficiently filled, it is not diseased, only insufficient. This is easier to remedy than fixing an illness that does not exist the way we have learned to define and identify illness, and if it is manifested as a result of some illness or distortion in a pathway reaching it and that distorted pathway is fixed, it still remains insufficient until it is filled.
Lest anyone challenge me on the idea that neuroplasticity reveals a fluidity of the mind, may I immediately counter that this is purely a measure of brain function and thus of a pathway reaching the mind, not the mind. If General MacArthur makes a decision based on distorted transmission of accurately gathered intelligence data, and if the transmission of his decision is also distorted through the same channels making his orders seem incongruous and defeating, is MacArthur foolish? Can he be deemed to be mentally incompetent? The recipient knows that the intelligence information is accurate. But the solution is foolish. Does not the same apply to the human mind that is born insufficient but can grow into fullness or comparative fullness as the person experiences life?
If we can see this, we can see that
- A person cannot be mentally ill, only mentally insufficient
- A person whose connection to the world is distorted will remain insufficient, not because he is ill, but because the distortion would have limited the reception of stimulation that builds sufficiency.
- The reversal, treatment, or palliation of that distortion can only reveal the level of insufficiency that must then be filled, not the existence of an underlying disease.
- If we simply sit back self-satisfied that we have treated the physical flaws and have thus cured the condition, we are doing a disservice as we have not attempted to fill what was neglected before.
- It is okay to see someone as unfortunately unable to have adequate stimulation and must perforce remain mentally limited, not because of illness, but because of ill-reach. We do that with many endocrinological disorders, don’t we? We do it with genetic disorders like Downs Syndrome, don’t we?
It is necessary to use our position and authority, therefore, to give people the chance to build self by trying not to convince them that they are mentally ill when they are simply insufficiently stimulated so that they can catch up rather than simply stay hidden behind a diagnosis that has no basis and offers no opportunity to get out.
Response of one doctor:
I disagree with a couple of assertions.
The body doesn’t arrive as a fully formed system, especially if you include the brain. Baby boys aren’t born with beards and public hair. Baby girls don’t menstruate. The body grows and develops over a lifetime. The mind is no different. It’s a part of that overall growth and development.
Health care isn’t just a restoration of the mythical form. It’s also the prevention of distortions to that form. Health care is as much prescribing proper diet and exercise as it is prescribing diabetes medications.
Illness is a loss of proper function. If we accept the mind is an inseparable part of the brain then mind malfunction is a form of illness just like asthma and coronary ischaemia. We call those respiratory and cardiac illness, so we call the first mental illness, probably because brainal illness sounds silly.
We call it mental health for the same reason we call hospitals “health care centres”. Honesty hurts.
Am I the only one who sees life this way? My studies in quantum physics have revealed that matter is composed of sub-atomic energy forms or quanta that are in perpetual movement, each affected by the other or others. It shows me that matter can be measured because the instrument is affected by the movement of the quantum energy in the object being measured, and thus also affects the object as much as the object affects the instrument. (When we measure something, we have already changed it so what we measure is not the same as what was there before we measured it – Einstein’s General law of relativity). Thus, we have the ability to identify the presence of matter, measure its relative size and location, and even destroy its existing state since that state is only a composite of smaller states. It also reveals that we can, therefore, only measure what is composed of quantum energy because we need the electromagnetic energy that is its property to be able to affect our instrument.
Hence, any energy that is not quantum cannot be measured, is not a composite, and thus cannot be located, have colour or be destroyed. Yet it can function but not with the property of relativity. We have never been able to measure, locate, or identify the mind, but we know it exists. Just because we know it must exist, does it mean that we must consider it to be in an area with a function we can measure?
Okay, I concede that my summary description of the body being fully formed left an opening for contradiction. I meant ‘fully formed’ from a design state, like a plant is fully formed and is designed to produce fruit, but not yet. And, of course, genetic abnormality leaves some bodies not as capable as they can be. Nonetheless, they are fully formed to what they will do. I also concede that health care is not just the restoration of function but the education to prevent distortion. But again, this relates to something that has identifiable form and function.
I will take issue, however, with your assertion that, “If we accept the mind as an inseparable part of the brain…” as leading to a false conclusion. Since that cannot be determined to be fact, one cannot form a conclusion based on its accuracy. But I will accept your admission that there is lack of descriptive words for “brain illness”. My only contention is that “mental illness” as a diagnosis tends to convey a state of incapacity in the essence of self that can destroy a person’s ability to have and keep self-esteem.
Response from another doctor:
Perhaps a better term than “fully formed” is “comes with its complete potential encased in it”. Puberty doesn’t come from the outside, nor does senility. Both are part of the programming that the infant emerges from the womb with. A human being is therefore born with his or her full potential even if it will take a while before that potential is realized.
As for the mind being a part of the brain, not to sound facile but one can still have a mind after removing pretty much every other part of the human body (assuming transplanted or artificial means are substituted) but if you remove the brain you lose the mind. Of course, we can replace every other major organ except for the brain so that might be a weakness in the argument.
However, one could go further and note that while the brain is physical the mind is non-physical. The precise term would be up for grabs. Metaphysical? Ephemeral? Spiritual? Clearly locked to the brain and influenced by its workings but an entity of its own. This would mean that treating mental illness is different than all other illnesses in that a simple pill cannot solve its problems reliably but forces us to consider that addressing the mind on its terms is necessary for successful treatment, something we don’t usually do.
Ah. Thanks. You have said it more succinctly than I did. I hope readers will read your response. BTW, have a look at Christine Santhouse. She lost half her brain to surgery. (Of course neuroplasticity will have somewhat of an effect in its healing.) http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/christina-santhouse-half-brain-speech-pathologist_us_56cb6a11e4b0ec6725e36de9. I hope the link comes through.