[ExI] mental illness & social constructs

Tom Nowell nebathenemi at yahoo.co.uk
Sat Apr 19 11:00:11 UTC 2008

To quote Stathis (a mental health professional if I
remember correctly), Lee and Rafal:

On Fri, Apr 18, 2008 at 9:07 AM, Stathis Papaioannou
 <stathisp at gmail.com> wrote:
> On 18/04/2008, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote:
>  >  Perhaps reinforcing the researchers' own biases?
At least
>  >  things along the lines of counting the political
>  >  as retarded or mentally ill are less prevalent
today. A huge
>  >  number of psychiatrists in the 1960s were
willing to affirm
>  >  that Barry Goldwater was mentally ill for
spouting his
>  >  "nonsense".
>  Mental illness is not a social construct any more
than hepatitis or
>  renal failure is a social construct.
>### Aside from schizophrenia, bipolar and a couple
>others, there is a whole huge gray area, somewhere
>between barking mad and re-born Xian, that is very
>much subject to a lot of social construction of ever
>new nosological entities. Is "oppositional
>personality disorder" a mental illness or just bad
>manners?Reasonable people could differ here.

This whole discussion centres around what is mental
illness, and how much of this is social rather than
biological. With advances in neuroscience, we've been
able to discover more about changes in brain chemistry
and architecture that underlie many mental illnesses.
Biological studies have indicated that some conditions
can be shown in other species eg the "anorexia in
young female pigs" study.
 However, the threshold of when to treat, and when to
say someone's just a bit different, is something that
is blurry, changing and socially defined. UK studies
on the incidence of mental health show approximately
35% of the population will suffer from depression that
fits the diagnostic criteria for clinical depression.
However, there are arguments on how these figures are
reached at. In our current age of the "prozac nation"
with many people on antidepressants who in earlier
times would have been untreated, and many children
being on medication of attention deficit disorder/
hyperactiivty/ related syndromes, are we
overmedicalising human behaviour or are at the dawn of
a golden age of alleviating human suffering?
  The top diagnostic manuals (the american DSM and the
WHO guidelines) change their diagnostic criteria based
on research and debate, and there are often some
controversial inclusions. After all, the 1952 DSM
included homosexuality as a mental disorder:

and areas like multiple personality disorder are the
topics of fevered debate.

As people have been quoting Thomas Szabo, opponents of
psychiatry will point to things like
 to show where psychiatry has been abused.

I suppose for us as transhumanists, the big question
has to be how much difference in mental function we
can tolerate, and what neurological interventions
(whether chemical or physical) are desirable. I've
just read Greg Egan's "Distress", and before our
journalist hero investigates the Theory of Everything,
he has an interview with a "voluntary autist" -
someone who wants to have surgery to become more like
a savant-type autist, and is fighting a legal battle.
Also in the book some people are intersex in
interesting ways - some alter their external sexual
appearance, some alter their "brain sex", some do
both. Perhaps we should persuade David E Kelley to
write a futuristic TV show based on transhuman
pioneers and their legal battles to alter themselves.


PS If those pesky fifteenth century French had only
listened to their middle-aged military veterans
instead of a teenage girl with voices in her head, I
could be sipping a beer in the English city of
Orleans. Some mental differences help people inspire
others, and hearing voices doesn't necessarily stop
you functioning in society.

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