Mental Health, Society, and Law

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.





TBT: Personality and Psychological Disorder

Note: I wrote this in 2014 as a requirement for my Psych101 (Introduction to Psychology) Class. Since it is a Thursday here, it’s throwback Thursday! This is an edited and filtered version. Lol. Also, please support #MHActNow. Looking back, I was such a weird kid. Haha. I still kinda am.

Personality and Psychological Disorder

When we were discussing defense mechanisms by Freud in class, I couldn’t help but think: “Ay weh, ‘yun pala ginagawa ko.” (Oh, That’s what I’m doing right now). I was (and maybe still am) guilty of various types of defense mechanism mentioned by Freud. There was a time when I was so frustrated and with a batch mate of mine. He was a shiftee from an engineering course, and he was so good at numbers and at studying, but I was angry at the fact that he shifted to accounting when I think he should have stayed in his original course because that’s where his skills and talents can be fully utilized, but no, he just had to shift to a course where he’s really not needed because a lot of people are trying to get into that course already. Then I realized that first of all, what he does with his life is really none of my concern, because we’re not even friends and second, I was just projecting my annoyance and frustrations at myself from shifting from economics to accounting because I think I was good at economics. I was so bitter about my choice because I believed that I could have done more if I stayed at my previous course. There are times when I still feel that way (especially since I got removed from accounting), but it’s a lesson that I’m still trying to learn: that we have to move on and make do with what we have and where we are right now.

I am guilty of a lot of other defense mechanisms, but that’s just who I am I guess, an amalgamation of defense mechanisms in order to survive this world.

The criteria of normality are efficient perception of reality, ability to exercise voluntary control over one’s behavior, self-esteem and acceptance, ability to form affectionate relationships and productivity.

I was still able to do all of the five criteria, so I considered myself normal. Sure I sometimes worry over things more than my peers, and sometimes I would stop functioning properly when I agonized over situations (it would only last for a short time), and I do get distressed by a lot of things. I knew I was a bit neurotic since I was a kid. But deep down, I knew that there was nothing wrong with me, I just have a higher standards and a different way of thinking than others. I’d cry, get tired, and rant about things; complain about my lazy group mates and all that but in the end I would still be able to get the results that I want. People would think I had a problem with my self-esteem and self-acceptance, but I was just good at impression management and expectation setting (they wouldn’t expect too much if I told them that I was a bad at something that I already know I can’t do well, would they?). I was proud of myself for being responsible in things that I cared for and I knew how to handle myself. I had control over my actions. Most of all, I was happy with how productive I was no matter what happened, and I was able to make a lot of friends. I created a lot of coping mechanisms for the shortcomings that I knew I had, like planning and doing my school work early because I’m forgetful and I am also bad at cramming things I’m not good at.

The three criteria of abnormal behavior as mentioned in class are deviance, maladaptiveness, and personal distress.

I didn’t fully notice how my behavior went from normal to abnormal because it was gradual. It didn’t just spring on me one day like a nasty flu. I thought I was still normal, because I thought it was just how I am usually. My reactions over simple things became deviant from the social norms (a normal student wouldn’t be cry, get hysterical, and hyperventilate over getting a terror professor for a long time like I did, they’d just rant about their rotten luck and try to move on). I wasn’t able to function effectively anymore. My personal distress reached a new high record. My parents finally decided to have me checked by a doctor (much to my horror, relief, and mostly embarrassment at having to reach that point) who prescribed my some medicines and told me that it wasn’t really my fault (I still have doubts about that), that I have to stop pleasing other people and to be honest with myself. After a few checkups, the doctor deemed that I was “better” but that I “had to be careful”. My self-acceptance and esteem really took a blow since then, because I still couldn’t fully distinguish which part was my personality, and which part of it was just a “disorder”.

Currently, I’m still trying to accept the fact that what I had was something I couldn’t control and that it’s not really my fault, or at least not totally my fault. With my personality, I am predisposed to feel and act in a certain way but that doesn’t mean that it’s not normal and that it would automatically mean I’d behave abnormally. I have a choice to improve myself and get rid of any illness that I may have. It’s not hopeless. It was never hopeless, and people should never give up. One time, we were required to watch a movie for a class, and the movie ended at 8pm. I was stuck waiting at school ‘til 9pm because my parents were only able to fetch me at that time. For an hour, all I could feel was anxiety and fear, and negative thoughts would enter my head (what if somebody attacks me? Hala wala ng tao, isasara na yung building! Papalaysin na ko ni kuya guard huhu) (Oh no, there are no more people around, they’re going to ask me to leave the building), because it was dark and I was all alone except for the guard and the occasional grad students passing by. It struck me at that exact moment that it was what I felt for the whole time last year, and it was not normal to feel that way every day. It’s not normal, should never be normal and nobody should ever feel that way. Psychological disorders may manifest differently from physical disorders, but it doesn’t make it any less threatening or harmful. “It’s just in your mind”, yes, it is, but people must learn when exactly it’s normal and abnormal.