Typically, when trying to explain mental illness, psychologists and psychiatrists point to individual pathology as the cause. They “blame the victim” by blaming the “id” (Freud), or the “shadow” (Jung) or some genetic abnormality or predisposition. There is something wrong with you, the psychiatrist will say. You have a “mental illness” and they will diagnose that illness as a way to make you better. “Why do not we talk about it for a bit. Here are some pills. Please go away.”
We reject this model of mental illness. We view this model as a “narcotization or tranquilization” (Szasz 2010) of an individual otherwise suffering from the traumatic experiences of a Toxic Socialization process deliberately designed to diminish, anesthetize, and control. This personalization of psychic trauma is the cardinal sin of psychology and psychiatry and demonstrates a complete failure of psychology and psychiatry to recognize the basic etiology of mental illness, which is violence and stress in their environment. Worse, it prevents the development of workable treatments. It is exactly as absurd as thinking that slapping somebody in the face will somehow fix the leg that someone else just broke with a hammer.
We prefer a true biological model of mental illness, and not the pseudo biological one preferred by the mainstream psychiatric industry. We prefer a model that views mental illness as a short term bodily response and a long term neurological adaptation to both physical and psychic trauma.
What is trauma
What do we mean by trauma? Trauma is a direct assault on the body. This includes physical assault or psychic assault. Physical assault is direct (e.g., knife wound) or indirect assault (stressful environment) on the physical body. Psychic assault is conceptualized as a direct or indirect assault on the Bodily Ego. A direct assault on the bodily ego is when somebody calls you a mean name, belittles you, and so on. An indirect assault on the bodily ego is an assault caused by failure to maintain a healthy and safe environment where all the essential needs are met. An indirect assault on the bodily ego is the same thing as keeping nutrients, water, and sunlight away from a plant, or by letting animals trod all over the garden.
Short term bodily response
What do we mean to say that mental illness is short term bodily response? Just that. If somebody stabs you with a knife, you will receive a knife wound, and your body will go into distress mode. You will feel a wash of emotions and a desperate need to get away and get help to treat the wound. The emotions and the motivation to flee and get help are your body’s responses to the physical trauma. This short-term response will be easily observable, and will dissipate only when you get away and find help, or die as a result of the wound.
If observant, you will see similar behavioral responses when someone is stabbed with a word (e.g., a mean word or a cruel name). When you are stabbed with a word, you are given a word wound. Parents yelling at their children, teachers psychologically assaulting an adolescent, bosses belittling an employee, and so on, are all emotional stabbings that create word wounds and put your body into distress (anxiety, fear, anger, etc.). As a consequence of being wound by a word, you will cry, get angry, feel diminished, and so on. Your body’s response to this psychic trauma will only dissipate when you get away from the trauma and get help to treat your wounds. If you are not treated for your wound, symptoms may persist. Any parent with a bullied child will know that symptoms persist long after the child has come home from school.
Of course, at this point, you can see that calling a short-term bodily response to trauma an illness is absurd. A stress response to bullying, even if that response is hours later at home, is no more an illness than a knife wound which hasn’t been treated and is still bleeding hours later is an illness.1 For this reason, we prefer to exclude these short term bodily responses as illness at all, and simply classify them as the short term trauma response of the body.
Long term neurological adaptation
Word wounds and other forms of psychic trauma occupy a curious medical space, in that they are often completely ignored and not taking seriously. The serious damage caused by even minor word wounds is dismissed, and those who suffer and complain are called weak and feminine. Instead of the school doing something to stop the bullying, they say “Oh it’s just boys being boys.” Instead of receiving love and care at home for the trauma experienced at school, the bullied child goes home and is told by his father to “buck up and be a man.” This bizarre outlook means that when people endure even serious psychic trauma, they do not get any treatment for it. In fact, they might even eventually get blamed for it. If a child endures chronic bullying at school and later develops a conduct disorder, or an anxiety disorder, or aggression, or depression, or self-harming behaviour, psychiatrists will diagnose this as an illness, or a genetic propensity, or even a personality quirk.
What happens when you do not get proper treatment for a psychic wound? What happens when you take that wound and go back into an environment where you are stabbed again and again and again? If we were talking about a knife stabbing we’d know the answer right away. The wounds would multiply and get worse. They would get infected and eventually they would go septic and you would die. It is the same for a psychic stabbing. When you do not get treatment for a psychic wound, your brain, which is the organ affected, endures additional damage. If the assault is not stopped and if treatment isn’t applied, the brain eventually gets infected (neurosis?) and may eventually even go septic (psychosis?) This infection and sepsis will be observable in the neurological adaptations, the changes in wiring and neurochemistry, that occurs, and also in cognitive, emotional, and behavioural abnormalities. Thus, mental illness is a neurological adaptation, a change in the neurochemistry and neuropathways of the brain, caused by failure to identify, treat, and protect a psychic wound.
Is it fair and valid to re-conceptualize mental illness as adaptations and infections? We think so. If so, it may also be fair to reclassify almost the entire DSM-V system not as a collection of mental illness but as a collection of inflammatory responses to psychic infection and sepsis, ways the body has devised to fend off and mitigate the damage of the assault. If valid, it should be easy enough to tell. If valid, we would find examples of this in the accurate biographies of all “mentally ill” people. If it is true we will find that all mental infections are rooted in a toxic environment. We would also find that these mental infections can be treated and cured just like we would treat and cure other forms of trauma and assault, by total mitigation of toxicity in the environment,2and proper care and attention to the wound.
1 I would also like to point out, while a doctor would never misdiagnose a knife wound as illness, psychiatrists and psychologists misdiagnose word wounds and other so-called “problems of living”(Szasz 2010) as illness all the time.
2 Some might gasp at the assertion that toxicity in the environment must be totally mitigated, but consider that no doctor would ever send the victim of a knife wound into a room full of people waving around knives. Why would a psychiatrist send an individual back to a school, a workplace, or home where teachers, colleagues, or family members are swinging around psychic knives.