Disclaimer: October is Mental Health Awareness Month, so here’s a little essay on my take on Mental Disorders. I’m neither a psychologist nor a professional, just a very concerned yet jaded law student who should be studying right now. I also reside in the Philippines, so yey context.
First let’s define things. What exactly is a psychological disorder? According to Ciccarelli et. al, there are many factors or criteria to consider abnormal behavior as a psychological disorder. Usually before determining whether a behavior is abnormal, psychologists and other professionals must answer these questions:
1.Is the behavior unusual, such as experiencing severe panic when faced with a stranger or being severely depressed in the absence of any stressful life situations?
2. Does the behavior go against social norms? (And keep in mind that social norms change over time—e.g., homosexuality was once considered a psychological disorder rather than a variation in sexual orientation.)
3. Does the behavior cause the person significant subjective discomfort?
4. Is the behavior maladaptive or result in an inability to function?
5. Does the behavior cause the person to be dangerous to self or others, as in the case of someone who tries to commit suicide or who attacks other people without reason?
These can be summarized into three factors: 1) deviance, 2) maladaptiveness, and 3) personal distress. If these factors are present, most likely there could be an existing abnormal behavior which could be a symptom of a psychological disorder. It is BEST to get a checkup and have a professional explain things but those are some of the basis. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has been updated to DSM-V, so it’s really best to seek professional help when you feel that something is wrong.
What is deviance? Deviance is social norm deviance or when something goes against the norms or standards of society (Ciccarreli, 2012). Society sets the standard for what could be considered as normal. Before, having trouble breathing, self-harm, and ranting over small things would be considered as deviant when done in the extreme but today it looks like it has become the norm with the alarming increase in social media posts regarding such things. Memes like: “Please limit crying to 15 minutes” have become rampant. This might be a joke to some, but jokes are often half-meant and it is still very alarming.
What is maladaptive? It is anything that does not allow a person to function within or adapt to the stresses and everyday demands of life (Ciccarrelli, 2012). The person is having a hard time to cope with the daily stress and ends up with extreme or risky coping mechanism like excessive drinking, etc.
What is personal distress? It is when a person feels subjective discomfort emotional distress when doing a particular thing. (Ciccarrelli, 2012). A person who suffers from fear of social interaction would feel great discomfort and emotional distress in gatherings and events, causing him or her to not go out at all.
Worryingly, a normal healthy person shouldn’t undergo excessive daily personal distress but as Philippine society stands today, it seems like the standards are changing as more and more cases of psychological disorders are being reported. Recent statistics point out that 1 in 5 people suffer from mental health problems. These are the reported ones; a person suffering usually hesitates to ask for professional for fear of stigma or lack of resources. The numbers are increasing even as I write.
So what causes these psychological disorders? There are many theories about the causes, ranging from biological to psychosocial theories. Recently, I’ve read an interesting article regarding neoliberal capitalism and mental health, on how psychological disorders could have stemmed from capitalism. The article is titled Capitalism is Despair, and it’s Time to Start Taking it Personally by Tom Syverson. Here are some excerpts from the article:
But what if your emotional problems weren’t merely your own? What if they were our problems? Instead of treating standard-issue mental distress as a natural biological condition, Fisher proposed, “we need to ask: how has it become acceptable that so many people, and especially so many young people, are ill?” What if the real problem is that we’re living in wrong society? Perhaps Theodor Adorno was correct when he said, “wrong life cannot be lived rightly.” (Syverson, 2017)
Isn’t that an interesting premise? That the existing psychological disorders is not the problem, but rather the society itself. That is where my concern arise for my friends and the people I know, for people who comes to me and ask for help regarding their mental health. Going to a professional would help others whose disorder stemmed from biological problems, but what if the cause is the society? How do we change that? How can we help?
Relying on the work of psychologist Oliver James, Fisher noted a striking correlation between the rise of industrial capitalism circa 1750 and the growing normalization of mental distress. As capitalism became the norm, so did unhappiness. Daily misery is normal, because misery is what the system asks of you. Lifetimes spent in therapy, disastrous personal relationships, generations of hardening hearts, and private hells of hedonic narcissism: this is the price we pay for sustaining the impossible demands of capital. (Syverson, 2017)
It makes so much sense to me. I see posts on social media, complaining about the traffic, the work demand, their bosses, the insensitive and oppressive administration, other societal ills, and what have you. All those factors combined would naturally lead to a rise and normalization of mental distress.
To be sure, we court controversy with some of these points. Critiquing capitalism shades into a critique of the pharmaceutical industry, which slips into a critique of mainstream science, and suddenly one sounds like an anti-vaxxer. But the point is not to indict, as Foucault did, the entire field of diagnostic psychiatry. Rather, the idea is to consider that many forms of depression and anxiety might not be diseases with symptoms, but symptoms themselves—symptoms of a wider social disease called neoliberal capitalism. If chronic mental distress is the taboo byproduct of neoliberal economics, then it cannot be solved with neoliberal economics. Bourgeois unhappiness should be resituated as a socio-political problem with a socio-political solution. (Syverson, 2017)
As a former business administration, and economics student, I have always asked myself whether capitalism is good and sustainable. I have defended capitalism espoused by Adam Smith by saying that capitalism in its purest sense would have been better for the people right now but it was hijacked by selfish and greedy people.
Business ethics somewhat gave me hope, however, as things stand now, I am critical of the current capitalistic society that we have. Capitalism is really starting to look like despair to me, and I’m starting to take it personally.
So what now is the role of the law now regarding mental health and the society? Hopefully solve these problems. I have been a staunch advocate of the Mental Health Act since it was introduced by Senator Risa Hontiveros. The Mental Health Act (MHAct) reinforces and provides mental health care to those who would need it. I am cautiously optimistic about this because as previously mentioned before, mental health is a complex problem compounded by the current society. Execution of the laws are also an issue.
Whether the Mental Health Act would be helpful to those who are suffering or not is a question yet to be answered. Interestingly, there is an article about the effect of such special laws regarding disability. I would not delve into to the topic anymore for lack off time, and research, but the article is Plain Meaning and Mitigating Measures: Judicial Interpretations of the Meaning of Disability by Wendy E. Permett.
I would probably write another article about it soon, if my resources (aka time and energy) permit.
- Ciccarelli, S. et. al. (2012). Psychology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall
- Personal observation and experience. lol.