Reconciling beliefs about psychological disorders

Mental illnesses are “real” and not just a state of mind that most people can just “get over”.  Drug companies invent mental illnesses to sell more drugs.  I believed and do believe both these things at the same time.  Am I guilty of doublethink?  I certainly thought so when I first realized I held them.

Some people think that mental illnesses are “all in your head”.  I do not support the view that someone who has, say, depression can just pick him or herself up by the bootstraps and walk on over to Happyland.  Can someone simply decide to become smarter and have that happen as a function of pure will-power (being careful not to conflate intelligence and being knowledgeable)?  No, it seems as if mental illnesses are not simply “in one’s head”.

And drug companies:  Helping people might be a side effect or consequence of their existence, but let’s not kid ourselves that they do not also seek more profit.  More illnesses to cure, more drugs, more money.  From the looks of it, inventing (cf. identifying) illnesses can be quite profitable.  To believe that they do this seems only logical.  Considering the whole ranges of conditions that have been identified, even more so.

So which is it?  Are these conditions real or drug company-induced fantasy?  To reconcile these beliefs, one has to consider what a “mental illness” is.  One could potentially define it as an undesirable mental state of being.  To match contemporary perceptions of mental illness, it need not be undesirable to the person whose mind is in such a state.  For example, a drug addiction (withdrawal symptoms aside) might be more desirable than the alternative to a drug addict: being without the poison of his or her choice.  However, our society’s norms would consider this to be an undesirable state.  When someone is deemed to have a certain disorder, it is because they meet certain diagnostic criteria.  That is, that person’s mental state bears some resemblance to a group of other people’s mental state.

Drug companies, to maximize profit, can seek out arbitrary patterns of cognition and a drug to break the pattern.  Then, through the miracle of marketing, they convince the public that these patterns are undesirable and that their drug is one way of ridding society of the undesirable state.  One day, a company might try to convince us that being left-handed is a mental illness (after all, south paws have a shorter life expectancy) and market some drug to “fix” these sinister folks. Even within the psychology community, though, the lists of mental illnesses and diagnostic criteria change. For notable examples, we need look no further than homosexuality no longer being listed as a mental illness in the DSM II and the proposed changes to autism spectrum disorders in the upcoming DSM.

I’m not asserting any correctness in my beliefs about mental illness or drug companies, though I thought I’d share how I realized my beliefs were not incompatible.

3 Replies to “Reconciling beliefs about psychological disorders”

  1. So I’m looking through the proposed revisions for the DSM V to see if I feel like any of the disorders seem “invented”. Then I LOL’ed because of the “Factitious Disorders” category.

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