A Rational Opinion on Mental Illness

Every time I examine articles or listen to discussions on mental health, the subject always either starts with the mental disorders a person seems to experience or reveal, or it gravitates to that. It appears to consider that mental health is a state that signifies normalcy in a person. Then, if that normalcy seems absent or compromised, the conclusion is that the mind is disturbed or ill.

The pervading view, therefore, in the approach to a person with an unhealthy mood or behavior is to recognize the condition as an anomaly and work to remove or suppress it, or t5reat the person as a pariah who cannot be expected to function fully as human. That view is held whether we are trying to manage, heal, direct, judge, or help another person, or if we are the person who is looking for assistance or direction.

There is a tremendous flaw in this approach.

This approach is based on the assumption that normalcy is the natural development of the healthy human being. We believe from this that a person should be able to display behaviors that are consistent with his age and expected experience. Think of a parent telling a child to act his age, or the law expecting a person to behave in an age-appropriate manner.
Thus, if there is an abnormality in behaviour or mood, the person is seen to have either a disorder or a corrupted representation of himself (since physical maturity should confer emotional maturity). Often, we do not say this; we simply act out the expectation. In other words, in this line of thought, the problem exists either because of disease or immorality. I use immorality to include non-disease conditions like indolence, selfishness, antisocial and psychopathic behaviors and feelings, in short, behaviours that are seen as part of an attitude rather than the result of a discovered disease.

In order, therefore, to remove the condition that is presumed to be the abnormality and whose existence is seen to inhibit the more normal attitudes and behaviours from emerging, this approach leads us to offer treatment for the presumed disease, or direct our assistance at showing the person how to remove the problem. Alternately, especially in the correctional system, we try to force the person to remove or change the unacceptable condition himself by imposing negative consequences when the condition is revealed or used. This is what society and, from that, many authorities seem to espouse. We presume that, by stopping the unwanted behaviour, we will get normal behaviour or near normal behaviour. What we discover is that the person either holds tenaciously to the behaviour we want them to stop or they suppress it and show either a different but similarly unhealthy behaviour or the insecurities that lie beneath.

An Alternative Proposition

There is an alternate position that seems to evade even the most educated person. This is that the mind is an evolving or developing function that can never be sufficient, even in the most insightful or experienced person. A feeling of insufficiency or inadequacy, therefore, is normal, more normal than a feeling of stable balance, especially if the stability is offered by a spurious belief in personal power, a relative state of physical or financial security, or the support of another person of means or stature.

The observation is based on the reality that no one can observe, examine, or measure what is really transpiring in another person’s mind. One can only use the revelation as the person can do it or wants to do it. And that occurs through complex pathways that can easily become distorted or diseased.

This only shows that the revelation is diseased, not the mind. The insufficient mind is just not yet stimulated or stimulated sufficiently.

Because the mind can only be caused to be more developed through information, encouragement, and exposure, this can be hampered if the pathways are blocked. But that only slows down the development; it does not make the mind sick. In addition, no physician can identify an area of the brain that is malfunctioning in order to decide that a problem arises there, even as he/she is treating that presumed malfunction. In other words, where is the disease of anxiety? of depression? of addiction?

Of course, in some people, the insufficiency is real because development was hampered from an early stage, either due to malfunction of the pathways or severe lack of exposure to challenging situations. Then, the person may demonstrate severe limitations in cognitive function. Sometimes, the insufficiency is relative to the event and may only be dysfunctional in the person who attempts to compensate by forcing an inappropriate response. Sometimes, however, the insufficiency is only relative to what the person assumes is expected and results from a repression of what is right in order to display what is presumed to be more appropriate.

Let us look at it another way. Let us suppose that the human being is naturally flawed, mentally and psychologically. (I do not like the word flaw here but I will use it for comparison). By being flawed, I mean that we start life without the strengths of insight and wisdom that give rise to healthy moods and behaviors. Until we develop the understanding appropriate to the task, we will function inappropriately or without true comprehension. Left that way, any human will be deficient mentally, but not diseased. Left partially that way, any human will be somewhat deficient with that deficiency showing up only in some areas of responsibility and not so much in others. For example, someone may be socially deficient while being academically superior. Some may be academically insufficient and athletically deficient, or any combination of these factors.

This observation is not so far-fetched.

All babies are deficient in cognitive skills. Thus, all babies have Attention Deficit. All babies are behaviorally immature. That is how we start life. One can presume that there is a natural growth of mental maturity with physical maturity. Yet, we know that cannot be so. Why? It is because we know that a child left to its own devices will not know how to develop itself beyond simple reactive responses that eventually determine the first line of behavior. We know this, so we take great pains teaching children how to develop mentally (to the degree we can with different parents offering different levels of guidance). We have to teach our children to see our physical world and understand its machinations. We teach them how to extend their body to its limits and discover what those limits are. We know that, if we do not direct the child that way, the child will never know its capabilities and will function below its potential. We also have to teach the child how to explore and know the vast array of social conditions it will face. We know that. It is our job as parents or responsible adults in our community.

Yet, when we see a child who did not develop the capabilities to understand and face his challenges appropriately, we consider him flawed, not inexperienced or inadequately prepared, but flawed. We look for the disease that may have caused it and give labels that refer to disorders we often do not understand ourselves. If we are doting parents or over-enthusiastic care-givers, we may offer ourselves to shore up their weakness by helping them with their task. We do this even when the child remains the child while the body continues to mature into that of the adult. We define the flaw by observing the behaviour. We can confirm the flaw with sophisticated instruments that can measure the function of the pathways though not the function of thought or feelings.

We cannot see the limitations in another person`s development. We see only the maturity of the body. We see the limitations or incongruities in the behaviour they project. They may reveal the fear and concern in their moods. Or, we may ourselves be the adults who experience these fears, insecurities, incongruities, failures, or inconsistencies and do not understand what is going on within us. In other words, we may be the observers, or we may be the person being observed. The person, the soul that is the essence of the human being, actually experiences the stress, insecurities, self-doubts, rejection, or criticism when what is happening is that we feel required to show ourselves greater than the limitations we see within ourselves. Then, we are the ones whose moods are painful, or whose behaviour shows unacceptability as we resort to anger, conciliation, indifference, or when we hide behind the spurious protection of drugs, alcohol, or other distractions so we do not confront those feelings or we escape the conditions that evoke them.

A Logical Deduction

As the observer, we may see the person who demonstrates what is considered to be unhealthy behaviour as flawed in character, and we do not naturally realize that neither the person who offends us nor ourselves who offend others without meaning to do so, is flawed. We are simply insufficiently prepared for that event, challenge, or expectation. What we do not know is that, in a world of pervasive and continuous change, every event will have new features or new twists to old features that make part of it different and unfamiliar. This includes the conditions that affect our bodies and the thoughts and allegiances of another person that can be presented as an opinion or expectation. For example, we cannot presume the affection of a lover, the normalcy of our health, or the stability of our job. Thus, any one of us may appear flawed when these conditions appear different or appositional. Yet, we are not, and neither is the other person. The expression of anger, conciliation, indifference, or the pursuit of indulgence is not a flaw; it is the revelation of an inappropriate way of protecting ourselves when we cannot do it rationally.

Therefore, when a child becomes an adult who seems flawed or unhealthy in mood or behavior, that flaw does not exist because of an imposition; it exists because of an insufficiency, an insufficiency that exists only because it was not filled. It was always there; it only had to be filled and was not, because of a lack of opportunity, encouragement, or the discipline to apply these experiences. If we can see this, we can also see how easy it is to correct an unhealthy mood or behavior. The deficiency was always there. Some people have had the privilege of filling it. Some may have had that privilege only in some areas. Others may have had very little of those three assists of opportunity, encouragement and discipline.

You see, if this conclusion is correct, and if we succeed in suppressing the flaw through treatment, assistance, or punishment, isn`t it obvious that what will result is a person who still does not know how to feel or act healthily? The behaviour may change or be suppressed, but that person will only know how not to feel or act incongruously. The problem still exists deep inside! Of course, the person will then still be incongruous, but in a different way or to a different degree.

Yet, if this conclusion is correct and we discover what is lacking in that person`s experience and stimulate the person to build it (not give it to him), we will have someone whose unhealthy mood or behavior will be less often experienced and thus less often used. This is because every human being has the innate desire to be capable, successful, and healthy. We have to believe that. Or we are simply relegating some human beings to be lower primates, incapable of managing except within a narrow range of conditions. We have to believe that all humans are capable of growing to be mentally competent or we will never have babies or care for them.

But such acceptance is not based on belief. It is based on a real understanding of the nature of man as an existent that is capable of thought, knowledge and emotions. It is an understanding that cannot effectively be derived from religious beliefs, metaphysical presumptions, or psychological observations. It can only be derived from a thorough understanding of what we can measure, our physical reality – how it exists, what it does, what are its limitations, and from that, deduce how the human mind differs from what we have only now begun to understand of these forces.

To effect this we must be willing to believe and accept that all people are born equal. They all have the capability to be good and do good; it must only be developed. They may not have all the full functions to develop it to its fullest. For those who do, the only requirement is to have that combination of exposure, encouragement and discipline. These are the only things we can really offer. Once we do, it is up to the person to accept and incorporate them. Therefore, if we see ourselves and others with whom we interact as being fully capable only not always sufficiently developed in mental strength, there is greater incentive to first look for the strength we do not have and get it.  If we do it, it allows us to manage with intelligence rather than try to manage physically.  When we can do it, we can also elevate the other person to see the same power in themselves.

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