I routinely state that there are no mental illnesses, but I also make it clear that the behaviors, habits, and problems which are labeled as mental illnesses are very real and can be very disturbing to the individuals involved and to those around them.
My general position is that dysfunctional and counterproductive habits are acquired in exactly the same way as productive habits. For this reason, I emphasize the importance of childhood and adolescence as the time of life when many of our habits, stances, and orientations are being laid down.
I have recently come across an article by Hugh Middleton, MD, that addresses these themes. Dr. Middleton is a member of Critical Psychiatry Network, a group of UK psychiatrists who are anti-psychiatry. (They say they are not anti-psychiatry, but by any criterion I can think of, they are.)
It’s an interesting article. Here are some quotes:
“Most of us navigate this period safely and successfully, though I guess few would look back on it as a trouble free time. What Jones reminds us is that the cost for those who don’t can be very high. From many points of view “mental illness” is a self-fulfilling prophecy; disabling medication, sick role, stigmatisation and reduced ambitions and expectations are all so easy to fall into, and very difficult to escape.”
Note that he puts the term mental illness in quotes, suggesting a disbelief in the ontological reality of this concept.
“It isn’t a big step, then, from identifying vulnerable young people as tomorrow’s psychiatric patients, to recognising that much might be done by being available to and responding accordingly. I am not advocating widespread methylphenidate for ADHD, or any of the other misguided misapprehensions which contribute to the growing number of medicalised young people. They have already been damaged by diagnosis. For all of us who can recall anything of it … or indeed observe it amongst our own family and friends, what makes for a successful adolescence and what hinders it? Acceptance, rather than pathologising? Respect and encouragement rather than criticism? Consistency?”
And Dr. Middleton is a psychiatrist!
I whole-heartedly endorse Dr. Middleton’s call for acceptance, respect, encouragement and consistency for adolescents, and I would add: frequent feelings of success and fulfillment.