Mental illness exists or is ‘real’ in the exactly the same sense in which witches existed or where ‘real’, Szasz, T. (1960) On-Line. Most people accused of witchcraft were women. According to Parrinder (1958) out of the two hundred convicted witches in England, only fifteen were men. He put forward that this shows that women were a persecuted minority in a world ruled by men. Most of these women were members of the lower classes.
They were poor, stupid, socially helpless and often old and feeble. Calling somebody a witch was like calling somebody mentally ill today. It is safer to accuse the socially unimportant people than those with higher status in society, Szasz. T (1972). For Szasz the concept of metal illness is used to disguise the fact that life for most people is a continue struggle. With ‘illness’ being such a deviant thing, it is used as an explanation for man’s problems in social living. Just as devils and witches where in the declining middle ages. It takes attention away from political problems, conflicts, needs and aspirations.
The ‘myth of mental illness’ acts as a social tranquilizer promoting the belief that good mental health automatically insures that one makes the right choice in conducting ones life, hence tranquillity and happiness. However the truth is that it is in fact the ‘making of the right choices in life’ that are in truth considered as ‘good mental health’. With this convenient social tranquilizer society begins to believe that if it was not for the disruptive influence of ‘mental illness’, social intercourse would be quiet harmonious and so this ‘myth’ quiet successfully disguises the bitterness, conflict and problems of society. The below quote by Boyers. R (1973) pp101 shows that Boyers shares a similar understanding with Szasz in this regard
“Schizophrenia is a label which some people pin on others people, under certain social circumstances. It is a form of alienation which is out of step with the prevailing state of alienation. It is a social fact at and a political event” Szasz uses the example of ‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’; he questions the very existence of this disorder. He argues that its diagnosis is used to tranquilize the parents and to tranquilize the school system, which is disturbed by a misbehaving child. It offers a rational and scientific answer to this problem, and reassures the parents that this is a problem that can be dealt with in a rational and scientific manner. However, objective tests cannot be carried out to prove its existence. So can it really be a disease of the brain? Reason. (2002) On-Line.
Conversely studies using Brain Scanning techniques have found that children with sever symptoms of ADHD had lower activity than normal in the frontal lobes of the brain. Also areas of the brain called ‘caudate nucleus’ which is concerned with movement and attention, seemed to be slightly smaller in these children, Mind (2002) On-Line. “Behaviour is not, and cannot be a disease except in psychiatry. Controlling behaviour with or without a person’s consent is not, and cannot be a treatment, except in psychiatry, and faking illness is not? And cannot be, and illness except in psychiatry. Paradoxically the intellectual bankruptcy of the idea of mental illness is the pillar of which modern psychiatry rests.”
The above quote from, Szasz, T. (1999) On-Line, illustrates szasz theory in a nut shell. Fundamentally szasz insists that behaviour is never a disease and insists on evidence to prove this. People like R.D Laing and Michel Foucal agree with Szasz’s view that psychiatry is a form of social control, which is done through stigmatizing behaviour. We see the media becoming more alert to the controversies over what constitutes certain disorders such as ‘multiple personality disorder’ so we see that disorders presented by psychiatrist are not so easily accepted. We see the use of the term ‘disorder’ as opposed to disease or illness! Psychiatrists are increasingly acknowledging that the DSM is progressively unscientific.
However we can still see that psychiatric explanation is sought to explain behaviour, take for example the new bill of law being presented at the moment which enables all those with a mental illness which is likely to cause then to commit violence, to be detained against their will. This supposedly will reduce crimes committed by the mentally ill and so protect society. The passing of this bill is justified by claims made by medical specialist that medical science has proven that violence is caused by brain disease. On the other hand controversy over the validity of passing this bill shows that some of Szasz’s ideas are filtering into society.
Most of Szasz’s ideas on the myth of mental illness have been proved wrong by genetic studies and the like. Today Szasz is thought of as a sixties anti-establishment rebel. Psychiatry is now dominated by the bio-medical model. Szasz’s ideas are thought to be a passing phase in the history of mental health. However one can still note Szasz’s theories in connection with cultural factors and can recognise their continuity within the development of ideas within mental health.