Mental illnesses, it was suggested, should be treated like “brain diseases” over which the patient has little choice or responsibility. This was promoted both as a scientific fact and as a social narrative that would reap great benefits. The logic seemed unassailable: Once people believed that the onset of mental illnesses did not spring from supernatural forces, character flaws, semen loss or some other prescientific notion, the sufferer would be protected from blame and stigma. This idea has been promoted by mental-health providers, drug companies and patient-advocacy groups like the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in the United States and SANE in Britain. In a sometimes fractious field, everyone seemed to agree that this modern way of thinking about mental illness would reduce the social isolation and stigma often experienced by those with mental illness. Trampling on indigenous prescientific superstitions about the cause of mental illness seemed a small price to pay to relieve some of the social suffering of the mentally ill.Anyway, this is some provocative stuff in my judgment. Having discovered that Muslims in Zanzibar with little or no advanced medicine are better at preventing relapses of schizophrenic behavior, and other stuff like this, I'm glad to see The New York Times (long a devotee of modern psychiatry) giving so much space to this report. The article says, "The course of a metastasizing cancer is unlikely to be changed by how we talk about it. With schizophrenia, however, symptoms are inevitably entangled in a person’s complex interactions with those around him or her." Including, obviously, the psychiatrist himself.
But does the “brain disease” belief actually reduce stigma?
One Man's Schizotypal Disorder is...
An interesting article appeared today in The New York Times about the American exportation of psychiatric diagnoses. It's long, but worth reading. Here's a link. And here's an excerpt: