Lark Rise to Candleford and The Myth of Mental Illness

Thomas S. Szasz, the author of The Myth of Mental Illness, appeared in a documentary about Psychiatry that I watched some months ago. I got the book from the library and it was going great until he presented his theories about our historical view of mental illness and its relationship with religion which I do not share or think they are more than his opinion. But for the rest, and apart from some very technical explanations that are beyond my reach, I have enjoyed and understood the main line of argumentation, and it is in my opinion a very well informed, thought about, experienced first hand book, and it views psychiatry and mental illness in a much more human and kaleidoscopic perspective.
Does Szasz believe there is no TRUE mental illness? Yes and no, he won’t deny that many of us display behaviors that are adverse to our lives, that put us in a vulnerable position, that cause us much pain and harm others as well, but he refuses to call it, define it, address it in those traditional terms. It is time we see the alleged ‘crazy person’ in the whole context of his family, his social environment, his culture, his country with its political make up, and all the factors that affect us as individuals.


He explains it very well in his conclusions:

It is customary to define psychiatry as a medical specialty concerned with the study, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illnesses. This is a worthless and misleading definition. Mental illness is a myth. Psychiatrists are not concerned with mental illnesses and their treatments. In actual practice they deal with personal, social, and ethical problems in living.(…)

Moreover, the concept of mental illness also undermines the principle of personal responsibility, the ground on which all free political institutions rest. For the individual, the notion of mental illness precludes an inquiring attitude toward his conflicts which his “symptoms” at once conceal and reveal. For a society, it precludes regarding individuals as responsible persons and invites, instead, treating them as irresponsible patients.

And after reading Karen Andreola’s post about the book Lark Rise to Candleford, by Flora Thompson, (and she recommends for reading aloud to high schoolers), I checked it from the library and read this in the first pages:

There was no cripple or mental defective in the hamlet, and, except for a few months when a poor woman was dying of cancer, no invalid. Though food was rough and teeth were neglected, indigestion was unknown, while nervous troubles, there as elsewhere, had yet to be invented. The very word ‘nerve’ was used in a different sense to the modern one. “My word! An’ ‘aven’t she got a nerve!’ they would say of any one who expected more than was reasonable.

In my family there are members who have been diagnosed with different mental illnesses, and indeed they have a different behavior that impeded them from living a more ‘normal’ life. I’m not saying we invent diseases or disorders, but even at a much lighter level, we do not really tolerate much of any difference in others, and at an educational level, I believe we are specially good but not wise (as Charlotte Mason would say) at diagnosing and labeling. Joy posted about dyslexia as a ‘learned behavior’. I do not agree 100 percent with that, but then, who am I? My only experience is limited to a dyslexic brother and one student who was diagnosed in first grade in my class in six years of teaching. Fortunately for my students, they were mostly Hispanic children and we had no access to specialists until they were reaching third grade and posing a problem for the school, so who knows, there may have been potential dyslexics on the loose. Same as with ADD, ADHD, and many other modern maladies that correspond to behaviors, and that pose a conflict. I believe we are going to keep buying baby name books before birth, and a few years later we will be getting a copy of the American Psychiatric Association list to look at the possible disorders they and us may have.

Personally I have enough share with family history of unbalances, being a weird homeschooling mom, an immigrant, OC (anal, who cares?) But for some months I’m going to move to Lark Rise and enjoy a new and healthy (in body and mind) me!

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