Mental Disorders
Posted by Hornpipe2 13 years ago
I am becoming increasingly agitated with people who romanticize mental disorders. We've all heard the phrase about madness being a short step away from genius. I admit that everyone has little quirks and there are degrees of mental disorders. But there are limits to this which people seem to be oblivious to.  
A mental disorder in itself is not a beautiful thing. It destroys a person. It makes them a slave to the disorder, completely ruled by its whims and nearly powerless to escape it. To glorify persons who cannot or do not seek help in this situation only makes it that much worse for those who would do everything in their power to be free of it. I can see how telling someone that wanting to regain control means they'll lose themselves is potentially one of the most damaging things that could be said to a patient.  
Suicide is NOT glamorous. Obsession is NOT romantic. Suffering from a mental disorder does NOT show strength and courage - it is the treatment process (the end of suffering) which shows these traits. Given the chance to be rational anyone considering those options should completely agree.  
Last night Kassi and I watched Grizzly Man. I was somewhat uncomfortable through the whole film because the documentary maker seemed to avoid focusing on what seemed to be obvious mental problems with the central character and instead treated him as a normal man with normal problems. It wasn't until I read an IMDB comment stating that Timothy Treadwell was "somehow in tune with his own sense of nature and the ways of the world" that it really hit home: people were seriously oblivious to the notion that there was something wrong with him. Or, worse, they know he was suffering and they somehow think this is admirable.  
To make any sort of statement about Timothy Treadwell's personality is a disservice: this ignores the fact that the person portrayed in the film was not Timothy Treadwell. It was, instead, Timothy Treadwell suffering from severe mental and social problems. The movie was a tragedy in the sense that he died without ever really knowing himself. It was like an extended form of suicide. The worst part is that one can see small traces of who he really was - an introspective and rather lonely nature lover. This is covered up by the layers of instability though, and he never was free of it.  
Movies like Ordinary People and A Beautiful Mind deal with mental disorders as well. They are noteworthy because they don't glorify the disorder but the process of healing and recovery that must be done for someone to become themselves again.  
Also, before anyone starts in with the comments telling me that ADD isn't real and the US is over-medicated, realize that I'm talking about heavy topics such as suicide, extremely risky behavior, etc - things I am 100% certain should warrant treatment.
Kassi42: Amen. Great journal, HP. I don't really know what to say back - glad I stopped myself from distracting you when I heard you typing.
on the other hand..
I appreciate what you're saying, but I think there's another side of the coin. Some people rely on a mental state that others consider pathological to drive creative activities. It is not unreasonable for them to fear "correction" of a condition that, while it may hold some seriously negative consequences for them, might also (at least in their minds) be very much tied into their personal identity and/or livelihood.  
In other words, some people see treating or not treating a mental illness as a choice between being sick and great or healthy and mediocre. Do you know for sure they're wrong? Is it wrong for someone to do something dangerous to attain something important or significant or even great?  
Perhaps this is a false dilemma. Perhaps van Gogh would still have been as prolific and brilliant if he had been on Lithium. I don't know. The problem is, I don't think anybody else does, either. I figure that, until medical science can give people assurances that they will still have full access to their identities and creative processes, there will always be people who are scared of losing themselves or their abilities when they medicate themselves to treat a mental illness.
Hornpipe2: I believe that people strive towards rationality. You can see evidence of this anywhere: people seek to be logical, to be expressive and coherent, to be constructive, and to search for the truth.  
So, any person who would try to change their point of view from rational to irrational is behaving in an irrational manner.  
An example to tie all this together: Timothy Treadwell, in the film Grizzly Man, had been on a mood stabilizer before but quit because he claimed he "needed the highs and lows". In other words, he would rather be unstable than stable. This would imply that he is already operating in an irrational frame of mind. Can we believe anything he says about his mental state? I think we cannot, because he is not yet at a point where he can be trusted to be rational.  
A prescription medication by itself is not an immediate cure for a mental disorder. Effective treatment of mental disorders requires a change in thinking, the support of friends and family (and therapist), and in some instances medication - or the patient may suffer a relapse.  
My theory is that Timothy lacked many of the necessary aspects of treatment to really 'make it stick'. He had the medication, but from the way everyone in the film talks, it sounds like he did not have the support he needed to make the change (in fact, he seems to have had support to revert to his old self). And though there is no evidence one way or the other, I believe he lacked any kind of counseling at the time. So, he dropped his medication (had a relapse) and I don't think it is fair for anyone to claim he's better off that way.  
Basically, for us to REALLY know if someone is 'better off' with a mental disorder, they have to display rationality and understanding of their actions and thoughts. I think we will find that anyone who would claim to be better off with a mental disorder is acting under irrational pretense to begin with, so they cannot be trusted to make that claim.  
Another point: I feel it is cruel to attempt to justify the suffering of an individual by upholding the value of their works. Van Gogh was a brilliant painter. He also suffered considerably. Would it be more humanistic to encourage him to suffer so he could create great works for humanity, or to help him end his suffering?  
Hornpipe2: More on support, though: I agree with you in that I don't think his fears of losing himself were totally unfounded. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have the support of friends and family when going through therapy. If the people you care about tell you that you are improving and you have their support, you will keep with the therapy.  
If they tell you that you seem to be losing yourself, you're getting worse, etc. then you will drop out of therapy very quickly. This can be incredibly damaging. And from all the interviews with Timothy's friends in the film, it sounds like this is exactly what happened.  
But, we can't trust him to make the claim that he's better with the disorder than without. After all, he's dead - surely a result of the effects of the disorder he was unable to escape.
I agree with you for the most part, but i had to comment on this:  
"Basically, for us to REALLY know if someone is 'better off' with a mental disorder, they have to display rationality and understanding of their actions and thoughts. I think we will find that anyone who would claim to be better off with a mental disorder is acting under irrational pretense to begin with, so they cannot be trusted to make that claim."  
At what point does it become anybody else's business whether a person is choosing to be rational or irrational, to go untreated or to seek help? What I'm getting at here is that, for any other disease, patients are allowed to make a choice about whether the risks and side-effects of a medication justify continuing treatment of the disease. It sounds to me like you're advocating a level of intervention that would compromise the person's right to choose their own treatment options.  
BTW, I think that Vincent would have chosen his art over pain relief. Just my opinion, but lots of people would rather create in pain than to stagnate in comfort.
Hornpipe2: Sylvia Plath wrote 'The Bell Jar' in 1963. The book is sometimes called the female version of 'The Catcher in the Rye'. It's a great work.  
But I think it was a cry for help - an attempt to express the way she felt so others could understand her suffering. She committed suicide only a month after its publication. The tragedy is that in the book the character recovers, while in reality the author did not.  
I'm not trying to discount her novel. But I don't think "a person's life for a person's work" is a fair trade when they aren't capable of making the decision. And I think someone suffering from a (severe) mental disorder is not capable of making that decision, and at that point they need to be treated so that they can learn to become themselves.  
Maybe I'm advocating too much meddling here because of my own experiences providing support for people recovering from mental disorders. I think the real (physical) medical counterpart would be a person who is knocked unconscious and the doctors need to make the decisions on behalf of the patient. Or, someone who is on life support but has left no statement in their will. It's not quite the same as making the decision to continue smoking cigarettes or to stop taking antibiotics for strep throat - both of which, while certainly hazardous to the patient, are decisions made by rational and stable individuals.
I think it's sufficient to say that there's a gray area there, where some patients must be allowed to choose and others must be compelled to comply, and it's not always clear which patients are which, sometimes until it's too late and they have harmed themselves or someone else.  
I think some improvements to mental health treatment need to be effected, though, and raising questions about the effects of medication on a person's identity is an important way to drive that change. It's easy to characterize it as someone "becoming themselves," but I think there are people who would find that to be an ironic way of putting it. Telling people that they will become themselves a promise that I hope someday mental health treatment will be able to fulfill.
Soya: Law, at least in this state, says you cannot invountarily commit someone for mental health treatment unless they are a 'clear and imminent danger to themselves' or are 'gravely disabled'. Just because someone is suffering from mental illness...psychosis, depression, schizophrenia does not give the state or anyone else reason to force treatment. Many people live marginally and with supports, with schizophrenia, psychosis and the like.