Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mental health danger, or scare tactics by Big Brother?

Earlier this week it was announced, to some fanfare, that almost a fifth of Americans suffered from some form of mental 'illness' in 2009. CNBC reports:

More than 45 million Americans, or 20 percent of U.S. adults, had some form of mental illness last year, and 11 million had a serious illness, U.S. government researchers reported on Thursday.

Young adults aged 18 to 25 had the highest level of mental illness at 30 percent, while those aged 50 and older had the lowest, with 13.7 percent, said the report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or SAMHSA.

The rate, slightly higher than last year's 19.5 percent figure, reflected increasing depression, especially among the unemployed, SAMHSA, part of the National Institutes of Health, said.

"Too many Americans are not getting the help they need and opportunities to prevent and intervene early are being missed," Pamela Hyde, SAMHSA's administrator, said in a statement.

"The consequences for individuals, families and communities can be devastating. If left untreated mental illnesses can result in disability, substance abuse, suicides, lost productivity, and family discord."

There's more at the link.

I find this report deeply disturbing. I regard it as an attempt to manufacture an excuse for further statist intervention in the lives of US citizens and residents, whether they like it or not. Let me explain.

What does the report mean by 'illness'? According to, which cites the 2007 edition of Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary (from which the definitions below are drawn) as one of its sources, three key words are medically (i.e. factually rather than linguistically) defined as follows:

  • ILLNESS: an unhealthy condition of body or mind.
  • SICKNESS: 1: the condition of being ill: ill health. 2: a specific disease.
  • DISEASE: an impairment of the normal state of the living animal or plant body or one of its parts that interrupts or modifies the performance of the vital functions, is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms, and is a response to environmental factors (as malnutrition, industrial hazards, or climate), to specific infective agents (as worms, bacteria, or viruses), to inherent defects of the organism (as genetic anomalies), or to combinations of these factors.

In other words, 'illness' or 'sickness' can be a general lack of health, or a condition, not necessarily related to pathology - it may not be physically measurable. A 'disease', on the other hand, is pathological - an actual, physical, measurable condition, defined in relation to phenomena that can be scientifically detected, analyzed and categorized. A 'disease' may certainly be described as 'illness' or 'sickness', but an 'illness' and/or a 'sickness' are not necessarily a 'disease'. To say that a fifth of Americans suffered from mental 'illness' last year does not imply that they were suffering from a disease - i.e. something which can be objectively, scientifically measured and tested. It's a statement that defies scientific measurement and analysis. It's more of an opinion than a fact.

Ms. Hyde's quoted remarks above should be read with that reality in mind. She argues that "opportunities to prevent and intervene early are being missed", and speaks of the potentially "devastating" consequences. Are these words a politically correct smokescreen for an agenda to intervene in people's lives, whether they want it or not? After all, if SAMHSA can define someone (or some group) as 'mentally ill' (whether or not any clinical, objective evidence confirming that diagnosis exists), might that not be used to justify the intervention of the medical profession in their lives? And if medical care becomes just another branch of the State (as envisioned in the provisions of Obamacare), might that not justify the State in taking control of the lives of the citizens who may be so designated?

There's also the problem of the huge number of so-called 'mental disorders' that are recognized by the medical profession. Most of them were only 'recognized' over the past few decades. I'm not altogether convinced that some of them exist outside the minds of the psychologists and psychiatrists who defined them, and who treat them to this day (to their great and continued profit, needless to say!). If you'd like to understand more about them, see this list of mental disorders provided by the National Institute of Mental Health. Click on the title of any of them for a more detailed explanation.

(Note that new disorders may be defined and added to the list at any time. For example, 'binge eating' was added earlier this year. Similarly, something once considered a 'disorder' may be removed from the list; for example, the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973. In other words, this list is not definitive, and appears to be [at least to a certain extent] subjective rather than objective. Note, too, the claimed proportion of the US population deemed to be suffering from each of these 'disorders'. How was that proportion calculated? The NIMH doesn't say . . . but I'll guarantee they didn't go out and count them all!)

I distrust any pseudo-scientific claim that has no objective, measurable, verifiable evidence to back it up. I've seen nothing in SAMHSA's claims to persuade me that they're more than pseudo-scientific gobbledygook. If one in five Americans genuinely suffers from 'mental illness', I can virtually guarantee that it'd be visible all around us - in our families, our workplaces, our shopping centers, on our roads, and so on. I have no problem accepting that many Americans may suffer from temporary depression from time to time under the pressure of circumstances, or be downcast over something, or be frustrated, or bored, or whatever, in the short term. However, to label such passing emotions as 'mental illness' strikes me as utterly unrealistic.

I simply can't believe that one in five Americans is so affected by 'mental illness' as to require the 'intervention' of which Ms. Hyde speaks. The evidence simply isn't there; and therefore I regard this report with deep suspicion. It calls to mind abuses of psychology and psychiatry in the former Soviet Union. There, political dissenters were at risk of being 'diagnosed' with 'psychiatric problems' and committed (forcibly if necessary) to 'treatment centers', where psychotropic and other medications were administered to them. There's some evidence that the practice may be continuing in post-Soviet Russia. You can read more about the problem here. Follow the links provided there for more information.

What say you, readers? Am I being paranoid? Or could this be a none-too-subtle effort to influence Americans to tolerate greater mental health care intervention, whether we want it or not? Is Big Brother trying to use this as an opportunity to further shape, form and control society? Isn't this potentially a foundation for the mental health equivalent of the Transportation Security Administration's new (and highly intrusive) airport security measures? "We know what's best for you, so shut up and put up with it. If you don't comply, we won't let you fly." What are the odds of some future department of the government telling us, "We know what you need for your mental health, so shut up and do as we say. If you don't comply, we'll use the excuse of your 'mental illness' to stop you exercising your rights as a citizen. So there!"



Anonymous said...

That's a very disturbing number. Have you looked around at the world lately? That ought to read "4 in 5 Americans".

Seriously, you are onto something. Coming on the heels of health care "reform", I see this as the perfect excuse to further limit firearm access for non-felonous citizens.

We'll soon see, I think. I've been on antidepressants for 20 years; I can assure you I need them, as life becomes nearly impossible to navigate without them. I'm also planning to apply for my CCW in the next six months, and our county has a "mental illness" question (This being California, a "may-issue" state, the Sheriff is the final arbiter of who gets and who doesn't). The biggest unknown? Who do I call first--the CRPA (NRA) or the ACLU, for discrimination against someone with a disability? ;-)


John Peddie (Toronto) said...

I'm reminded of a quotation attributed to Winston Churchill:

"The only statistics you can trust are those you falsified yourself"

It amazes me how our parents' generation came of age in the bone-crushing wasteland of the 1930s, then went off and won a war, all without benefit of experts and statistics to tell them they were "depressed".

If you want real Depression, go back to 1933.

Popgun said...

I do have to note that the first thing I thought of when I read about this is that 20% is about the same as the percentage of liberals / progressives in the U.S. population, so that would be about right.

After all, they consistently ignore reason and logic, and cannot seem to understand simple arithmetic as regards the budget.


Jerry said...

Four out of five statistics are false. possibly more.

Anonymous said...

Its all in how you define it- some labels that could be considered to fall in that category, could potentially be given to almost anyone, particularly as some people seek the labels out for whatever gain. note, I am not saying that they do not exist, or that medications and policy adaptations are not sometimes needful, but that they are sometimes overused.

think of how many bad teachers in the world push parents to get their kids tested for ADHD (considered a mental disease, adding to those numbers) because they won't sit still in class... the same students that good teachers look at and say "they are children, of course they need to move, of course their attention spans are not as long as adults",

(please note, I am not trying to bash teachers- I have great respect for teachers, but like in any profession, *some* are in the wrong career path for their personality, with the power to cause great harm)

Anonymous said...

If you can read that and not have an Orwellian shiver run up your spine, then you scare me.


FrankC said...

Peter, you are worrying too much. Just take one of these little yellow pills everyday and you will become normal again.
Australians swear by them, hence "No worries, mate."
But just for (y)our further security, please deposit any weapons and your car keys with one of our authorised safety officers.

Crucis said...

That's what happens due to too much introspection. After all, we all know that liberalism is a mental disease.

Bob@thenest said...

These people are of the same ilk and same agenda as those who deem parents who spank their kids or let them ride in the back of a pickup truck as abusive parents. It is yes, another excuse for governmental interfetence in our private lives and further diminshment of our freedoms. Bt then the liberals just love it.

Stosh2 said...

We're distoibed!!