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I always appreciate writing that emphasizes that science, medicine, and facts are all culturally embedded (so it's not just art, music, language, and opinion). This does an interesting job of looking at madness and mental illness in other cultures and a little bit historically, and examines the phenomenon of exporting American concepts of mental illness and the accompanying pharmacological cures to other places with different understandings. My favorite quote is: "The problem is that our biomedical advances are hard to separate from our particular cultural beliefs."

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/magazine/10psyche-t.html?pagewanted=1&em

Date: 2010-01-12 04:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sps.livejournal.com
It sort of amazes me that people aren't highly aware of this. It stares you right in the face, and you don't even have to have moved around the world: when America's current grandparents were children, most of their fellow children were perceived as healthy, perhaps with a few behavioural issues that they would work through in the normal course of things. Which, incidentally, they mostly did. Now, they are mostly seen as needing drugs just to get through a day at school.

(And this from the country that brought you the DEA. I don't know....)

Not to mention that even members of the general reading public must be aware of the way that hysteria and hypnotism (to name but two well-publicised examples) vary with both time and place.

Actually, the thing that amazes me more, and this applies to "physical" health as well as mental health, is that people forget that evolution (or God if they insist) doesn't make junk. A mechanism may be causing you a problem, often by getting overexcited about something, but it's always, always, there for a purpose.

Far more useful in all but the most extreme cases to say to yourself, self, it's rational to be afraid of dangerous things. But this thing is not dangerous to me. I should try to get a handle on this fear! Than to say, wow, I wonder if I can get a pill to knock out my fear centres?

If you talk to mentally ill people (I used to frequent the donut store down the street from a mental hospital, so this in the normal course of my day I'd sometimes run into people who were just at the edge of being able to fend for themselves), you can often see them working with the same mental repertoire that you are yourself, but just reaching for the wrong tool.

I'm not, of course, claiming this as a universal model of mental illness, but there's clear logical sense to it, and it is a way of looking at things that produces very different, and I think much more useful, trains of thought when you yourself have these moments of, am I going crazy?

It's also interesting that a lot of people who are not perceived as ill, but are certainly very difficult to have around, can be seen to have the opposite difficulty. The world is as full of low-empathy and low-humour people as it is of, say, colour-blind people. (The expression of these things is social, of course, so we have to remain agnostic as to whether this is an 'organic' deficit or because they have, as it were, grown up with a language that is poor in colour terms - an environment that trains them to disregard certain social stimuli.) Interestingly, these people are often highly socially successful (I think because the alternative moves you make in the social game when you never play these cards have some game theoretical benefit - providing you are in the minority). Of course, right there we have an evolutionary explanation of why people should vary in this way....

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