Posted by: bipolarmystic | March 25, 2015

My Thoughts on Labels

If you are reading this blog:

1)  Thank you!  I started and continue to write this blog to process my own thoughts and ideas.  I am surprised and thankful that anyone finds it interesting.  My long term goal is to create more of a community centered around those interested in the multi-dimensional aspects of “mental illness,” spirituality, science and just general life.

2)  You have probably noticed I include quotations around many labels, such as “bi-polar” and “mental illness.”  This is for many reasons, my own opinion being that labels are always imperfect, reductionist and sometimes very insulting.  Nonetheless, such labels seem to be necessary if readers are going to understand what I am talking about!

Labels such as “mental illness” and “bi-polar” are:

  • Insulting and inaccurate because the science and medical fields have “proven” that within the medical model, “mental illness” is the result of brain chemistry or organic presentation that is different than those not labeled “mentally ill.”
  • Is reductionist because the label originates from within the medical model.  The label discounts other models of the phenomenon in question.  It also groups people with significant differences together.
  • Is inaccurate because it fails to convey that “mental illness” is often on a spectrum with those not considered “mentally ill.”
  • Insulting because mental processes are separate and the result of brain chemistry, organic structure.  Labeling the phenomenon “mental illness” implies that the individual has some control over the “disorder” which is likely difficult to perhaps impossible in some cases.
  • Blames the victim/victimizes those experiencing the phenomenon.  Implies the “mentally ill” should alternatively be able to control mental processes or that they suffer from a disorder when another model would empower those experiencing the phenomenon.  Allows physicians to divorce themselves from truly helping individuals return to wholeness.
  • Is a highly imperfect understanding of a phenomenon.  The medical model has continued to change over the years.  Other factors are undoubtably at work that may be explained by biological or spiritual processes.
  • Harkens back to an age when “mental illness” was thought to be the result of demonic possession, moral failure, etc.
  • Encourages stigmitization by reducing and inaccurately describing the phenomenon.
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Responses

  1. the science and medical fields have proven that within the medical model, “mental illness” is the result of brain chemistry or organic presentation that is different than those not labeled “mentally ill.”

    You really need to put scare quotes around “proven” in that statement.

    Medicine and science have very little to say about mental illness that isn’t just a reflection of their own paradigms of physicalism and reductionism. All those pretty fMRI scans can show is correlation between certain neurological states and certain symptoms and even those aren’t very strong. That’s why there is still no physiological test that can separate the “mentally ill” from those who are supposedly well.

    A couple of generations ago it was a given that mental illness was primarily a result of childhood experiences – especially those engendered by a substandard mother. The biopsychiatric model is driven more by available technology, cultural tropes and – especially – drug company marketing than by any scientific discoveries. And it sure ain’t grounded in valid epistemology.

    Myths like the serotonin theory of depression or the dopamine D2 pathway theory of psychosis have never had any more supporting evidence than the older explanations of refrigerator mothers or demonic possession. They just fill the needs of many for a ‘scientific’ explanation that doesn’t explicitly blame the sufferer, the family, the culture or humanity in general.

    • Good points! I agree with you – we can only ever correlate data of this nature in the medical model. To “prove” anything within the scientific/medical model requires experimental designs and verification with further experimental designs, which are unethical for human subjects.

      • I was trying to say more than “correlation ain’t causation”.

        Basically practitioners of the mind ‘sciences’ are trying to pretend they’re scientific by imitating the ontology and methodology of 19th Century physics (research physicists had largely abandoned physicalism by the mid-20th century). Furthermore, since the 1980s they’re insisting on locating all aspects of mind and behaviour in the brain despite the fact that fingering the ‘original’ cause of something is arbitrary (unless you’re talking a singularity like The Big Bang) and always trying to bring it back to the brain is often very unhelpful.

        So, for example, in terms of mental illness childhood abuse and neglect and social disempowerment are far more strongly correlated than any physiological markers. So now what we get is neurologists trying to claim the neglect causes brain changes and the changes cause the mental illness, despite the fact that measurements of those changes don’t correlate anywhere near as well as a history of abuse. Or the recent theory of depression as a reaction to inflammation which insists that the inflammation in some other body part results in cytokine generated changes to the brain – so instead of locating the problem in, say, an inflamed liver which is fairly treatable they again locate it somewhere in the brain where it is not.

        The whole field is a triumph of fads and ideology over science and despite its lack of success in diagnosis and treatment compared to almost any other field of medicine you care to look at it consistently fails to examine its own fundamental assumptions.

        Locating everything in the brain is ontologically bankrupt – as the British Empiricists could have told them centuries ago. If the mind is the brain (or a fully emergent function thereof) you can always claim that something is ‘of the brain’ via circular logic. Ditto if you claim the mind is the soul, the senses, the big toe or a rock by the roadside.

        It’s more a religion than a science – especially when it strays into value laden areas such as law or morality as it so often does.

        • Very interesting comments! I agree that the mind is not the brain. Indeed, neurons exist throughout the body, especially in the stomach! The point I was trying to make, was that even in the medical/scientific model labeling a phenomenon “mental illness” is not consistent with what they now believe about the causation of “mental illness.” Of course, no label that the medical/scientific community comes up with will be valid. In the absence of this, it would be nice to at least have a label that is less stigmatizing.

          On your comments regarding correlation of abuse vs physiological markers: I am not sure if I feel nurture is more important than nature. I have not done the research, so my uneducated opinion is that there is an important genetic component – perhaps more important in the case of more severe “illnesses.” I recently read My Age of Anxiety in which the author describes his horrific anxiety which is passed on to his children. He believes there is a strong genetic component and discusses various epigentic changes that can result in offspring with a greater chance of “mental illness.” He also discusses many other models for “mental illness.” It is a very interesting read. Epigenetic changes in the context of “mental illness” are also discussed in Do Fathers Matter, also a very interesting read!

          I also believe that inflammation may be at work in some way. I read an interesting book called “Mind on Fire” in which inflammation (NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis) of the brain does cause “bi-polar” symptoms in a young woman. I believe other forms of inflammation may also be problematic. In the past, changing my diet to one believed less “inflammatory” (vegan, whole food) has helped me feel more balanced.

          I agree with your statement about medical fads. Medical reductionism is evident in the nutrition advice give over the years. People are told to avoid something one decade and then the position is totally reversed the next. Physicians need to take responsibility for wholeness instead of sticking an ever-changing experimental band aid on symptoms.

          I have very much enjoyed your knowledge, comments and perspectives. I will be checking out your blog next!

          • I agree that the mind is not the brain. Indeed, neurons exist throughout the body, especially in the stomach!

            I don’t really think neurons are the locus or explanation of the mind either. That again is the result of applying the thinking of 19th century physics to mind sciences (i.e. if ‘atoms’ are the quanta of matter there must be a physical quanta of mind too – hence neuronal explanations).

            Of course, no label that the medical/scientific community comes up with will be valid. In the absence of this, it would be nice to at least have a label that is less stigmatizing.

            I’d suggest any label that presumes to encompass a human being – be it ‘schizophrenic’, ‘black’, ‘gay’, ‘liberal’ … whatever – will inevitably come to be stigmatising in the mouths of those who don’t apply it to themselves. In Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night the autistic protagonist is mocked by children in the street who chant ‘Special needs! Special needs!’ at him.

            I am not sure if I feel nurture is more important than nature.

            I’m not sure what ‘more important’ might mean in the context of attempting to locate the mind.

            My point is that your mind is everything (to you). It is made up of every influence that has resulted in its existence – both physiological and experiential – right back to The Big Bang and it’s the ’cause’ of everything you do. It’s your universe. Any attempt to define it according to discrete precursors – be it the configuration of your neurons, your genetic makeup or your parents’ attitude to corporal punishment – will miss most of what’s relevant and result in a picture so reductionist it will almost inevitably be misleading and abusive.

            Contemporary tortured attempts to bring everything from diet and exercise to life experience back to brain physiology are an ideology that does little to explain or point the way to new therapies. It’s no more helpful than Marxist ideology that tries to explain everything in terms of class dynamics or religious ideology that reduces it all to a Manichean struggle between good and evil (i.e. good for reinforcing groupthink and defining ‘out’ groups but not for much else).

            He believes there is a strong genetic component and discusses various epigentic changes that can result in offspring with a greater chance of “mental illness.”

            Epigenetics is a ‘patch’ to the bugged ideology of genetic reductionism similar to the ‘neuroplasticity’ patch on the ideology of neurological reductionism. It’s basically an attempt to fold nurture into nature by claiming that the important determinant isn’t environment per se but rather the effect environment has on the expression of genes.

            I’m not saying that DNA methylation doesn’t exist, that it’s not caused by the environment nor that it doesn’t persist through multiple generations. Just that it’s not really very helpful looking at human behaviour or experience through that lens. If you’re suffering it’s not because your father was an alcoholic and passed some of his resultant epigenetic alterations on to you. It’s because you’re suffering – here and now. What you are right now is the result of everything leading up to this moment.

            Reductionism has it’s place (e.g. trying to work out why your car won’t start) but the ‘self’ or the mind or consciousness are not discrete entities that can be separated from the rest of the universe and reduced to their constituent components. Some things are fundamentally irreducible and trying to treat them as assembled artifacts – be it clay models with the ‘breath of life’ or biochemical telephone switchboards or computers in the head – is an over-extension of simplistic metaphors that obscures far more than it reveals.

      • To “prove” anything within the scientific/medical model requires experimental designs and verification with further experimental designs, which are unethical for human subjects.

        I don’t see that ethical considerations have ever done much to hold back psychiatric experimentation.

        We are currently engaged in a huge experiment in dosing children with powerful psychiatric drugs to treat ‘childhood bipolar’ despite the fact that no-one has a clue what the long term effects on developing brains may be.

        That follows our earlier ongoing experiment in dosing kids who don’t pay attention in school with amphetamines which seems to have yielded the result that such therapies are likely to lead to ‘childhood bipolar’ – a condition unknown to psychiatric nosologists prior to the 1990s.

        • Good points. However, it would only be considered unethical by the scientific community if they actually owned up to this, although clearly by our standards it is unethical. What I meant is that the scientific community cannot (supposedly) perform experiments on human subjects to “prove” causation within a laboratory environment.

  2. I love this article! After entering AA and doing the steps I was led to sites that made me aware that I was an Empath. Dr diagnosis says Society anxiety disorder and MICA. Mentally ill “chemical addict”. This article provides much insight and would love to continue to learn more.
    I do not accept either label and continue to learn and grow as an Empath. I still avoid groups of people without grounding and shielding, but share my gifts to help others when and where I can. Would be very interested in your thoughts and possibly joining your group if you have one.
    Thanks Again ..
    Thanks so much


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