Friday, May 03, 2013

Paris Williams - A Response to Linda Hogan's NYT Magazine Article on Her Bipolar Disorder

The other day I posted an article from The New York Times Magazine by Linda Hogan on The Problem with How We Treat Bipolar Disorder. It's been an incredibly popular article here, and obviously more so at the New York Times site.

Over at Mad in America, Paris Williams has offered a response and a critical appraisal of the subtext in Hogan's article. His essential point - and it's an important one - is this: "Linda has clearly adopted the 'mental illness as a lifelong brain disease' paradigm and has personally identified as someone who has such a "'mental illness.'"

I agree with his assessment - and because I subscribe to the trauma model of mental illness (that it is wounding and not a disease), I see nearly all mental illness as adaptations to horrible circumstances.

This is a good piece - read all of it.

The “Mental Illness” Paradigm:  An “Illness” That is out of Control


May 2, 2013


Paris Williams

For those of you who haven’t read this recent story in the New York Times, I highly recommend it. It is essentially a woman’s (Linda Logan’s) rich and moving autobiographical account of her struggle with “bipolar disorder.” The main message that I imagine most people will take away from this story is that the current mental health care system has some real problems — especially with regard to the often cold and dehumanizing way that “patients” are treated—but that the general paradigm from which this treatment model has emerged is simply not to be questioned. In other words, Linda has clearly adopted the “mental illness as a lifelong brain disease” paradigm and has personally identified as someone who has such a “mental illness.”

Anyone who knows my work will know that I have a real problem with this paradigm, believing that it generally causes much more harm than benefit (though I don’t discount that some people do believe that they experience some benefit from it). So, what is it then about this story that grabbed me? I recognized that if we read Linda’s story while holding a different paradigm (i.e., a different basic set of assumptions) than what she intended, then this story reveals in plain sight what I believe are some of the most fundamental issues at the heart of this epidemic of “mental illness” that so pervades our society.

What is this basic shift of assumptions? Linda clearly frames her story within the “mental illness as a lifelong brain disease” paradigm (what I’ll refer to simply as the “mental illness” paradigm). What if we shift to a significantly different and in many ways more “common sense” paradigm? What if we let go of the concept of “mental illness” altogether and adopt a very different set of assumptions: (a) Human beings (and indeed all living organisms) strive continuously towards a healthy, enjoyable existence; (b) moving towards and maintaining such an existence requires that we find relative peace with certain dilemmas that are inherent within our existence (e.g., death, loss, personal identity, balancing autonomy and relationship, balancing freedom and security, finding meaning, etc.); (c) the more difficulty we have in finding relative peace with these dilemmas, the more we suffer; and finally (d) some individuals, for various reasons and at different points in their lives, are particularly vulnerable/sensitive/aware of/challenged by these dilemmas and are therefore more prone to experiencing intense suffering associated with them. In other words, I’m suggesting that we return to Linda’s story after trying on a different lens—one that allows us to see those conditions we generally refer to as “mental illnesses” as instead the natural manifestations of an individual’s struggles with the fundamental dilemmas inherent in simply being alive. So we make the shift from a “mental illness” paradigm to an “overwhelmed by natural human experience” paradigm. What I find particularly interesting about Linda’s story is that she’s clearly narrating it from the “mental illness” paradigm, and yet allusions to this latter paradigm are practically bursting through the seams.

So with this paradigm shift in mind, let’s look more closely at some of the overarching themes in Linda’s story and compare just how different the methods of support and outcomes are likely to be when acting from each of these different paradigms.
Read the whole article.

Main points:
  • The “mental illness” paradigm creates a self fulfilling prophecy of actual brain disease
  • The “mental illness” paradigm interferes with our own natural resources and innate movement towards healing and growth
  • Even the “mental illness” paradigm, as harmful as it is, has a difficult time squashing our fundamental drive towards health and wholeness
  • Use of the term “mental illness” itself contributes to the entrenchment of the “mental illness” paradigm
  • The “mental illness” paradigm—an insidious cancer
  • So what do we do about it? 
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