[Marxism] People say I'm crazy

John Olmsted cathandjohn at msn.com
Wed May 5 18:44:03 MDT 2004


DOQ states:
 "The common myth peddled by psychiatry is that medications are  the wonder cures of so-called "mental illness"."
   The discussion on psychiatry  is rehashing the old arguments of RD Lang, Peter Breggin, Micael Foucalt  and others about the fact that there is no brain basis for mental disorders.  They are mainly deviations from social norms and our labeling them is just trying to make people compliant conforming citizens. 
    The question for a good materialist which (we assume Marxists to be) is:  "Does the mind and mental life have a material basis?"  Is the mind embedded in the brain?  If you say no it really floats out there in capitalist society and gets oppressed then you are joining the ranks of the Christians, Budhists, mystics, Renee Decartes and a long line of folks who feel the mind and the soul have a life that is other than the brain.
    If you accept that the mind and brain are one and the same, that all mental life is produced by the actions of material things such as neurons, neural networks, brain structure and neurochemistry ( and its contact with social life ) then you become interested in this material base.
   The first thing you notice is that it seems like there is a relationship between chemicals that go into your body and mental states.  You find that rather than being drug company propaganda, when you put a few shots of liquor in your gut your mental state changes, sometimes dramatically. Specifically you are enhancing the activity of the main inhibitory neurotransmiter GABA thereby reducing neural firing rates and hence feeling more mellow, less stressed etc.
   Before the evil drug companies' medications came along the best hope for a person with schizophrenia was benevolent institutionalization.  There are many varieties of severity of schizophernia so you will here of people who have not taken medications and gotten better.  If you think scientifically you will ask how many are recovering without meds compared those who don't.   Then you will calculate whether their cure without medications is generalizable.  The answer is that is definetly not.
   Intensive studies were done in the 70's to ascertain any correlation between family upbringing, social conditions and the onset of schizophrenia.  The conclusion was that  there was none. Actually there is some evidence that the poor get it more often and it may be related to exposure to infections at a very early age perhaps in the womb.  Millions of mothers could now stop hating themsleves for having brought this disorder on their child.  The same research was done with autism.  It was said that it was a socially induced disorder caused by bad parenting (refrigirator mothers).  
   With neuroimaging we now can saw with absolute certainty that both schizophrenia and and autism are biological disorders marked by significant malformations of the brain.
   Anyone who says that medications have not been a godsend for people suffering schizophrenia in general has never worked with them clinically as I have over many years.  Yes the sideaffects can be nasty (less so today) but the alternative for many is far worse.
   Once you root yourself in the material base of the mind and apply scientific methods to your analysis you can free yourself from running down the road of those screaming against psychiatry to grind the ax of their own social theory which has little to do with the mechanics of the brain.  Remember the biggest haters of psychiatry are the Scientologist, Christian Scientists,  Fundementalist Christianity and capitalist ideology in general.  "Stop blaming your brain, or your mother, take responsibility for your actions !"
   Ironically, it was a visit to a Cuban mental hospital in 1980 that opened my eyes to this.  We were treated to the hospital salsa band composed of those suffering from schizophrenia who could do this now that they had medications and that the hospital was no longer a prison like holding tank as it was under Bautista.
   The brain is the most complex organ in the universe.  There is still much that is not understood about its functioning.  There are a host of mental disorders for which we still do not medical tests that can confirm the diagnosis.  This makes diagnosis difficult but it is not less valuable because of it.  For many a label is not a stigma but liberation.  Many with attention deficit disorder were told all their life that they were lazy, stupid, unmotivated, sloppy etc. because their parents and teachers did not know the disorder existed.  To find they are not a jerk but that they have a specific difference in their brain.   They can stop hating themselves and get on with dealing with the real problem ( regardless of one's feeling about Ritalin).  The same is true for addiction, panic disorder, manic depression and host of other diseases. 
    People like Rachel may have had a bad time with the mental health system as many have.  The whole system suffers from the distortions and rot we can expect from capitalism.  Biological psychiatry can seem cold and unfeeling.  But the effects can be the opposite.  Witness the movie "The Awakening" sometime and watch what happens to those with Parkinsons disease when they get a little L-Dopa (dopamine).  Nothing short of a miracle. The problems of medications losing their effectiveness over time shown in the film is being worked on.  Ironically one of the ways there are doing it is with placebos.  Train the brain with the real medication and then give it a sugar pill every third dose and the brain produces its own higher level of dopamine.
   When you are dealing with mental illness that hits as much 20% of the population you have millions of anecdotal stories of horrible outcomes from this technique or this medication.  A few people commited suicide after taking Prozac came out.  People like Peter Breggin said "aha see what Prozac does"  Again if you think scientifically as Marxist have historically tried to do you realize that anecdotal evidence carefully assembled to fit the bias of the author can create sensational stories that are worthless at best.  The answer to the riddle about Prozac and suicide is that if you give 10 million depressed people a medication there are thousands of them who were suicidal at the times.  For some their depression was so bad they could not get up the energy to commit suicide.  With the prozac in the initial phase they got just enough increased energy to go out and finish the job.
   The big frontier in menal health is to understand how social relations actually change the neurochemistry in the brain.  Such things as powerlessness and social rank themselves create changes in Seratonin levels which in turn affect mood.  There is no question that then end of alienation and the exploitation of capitalism will produce the big change in mental life we are all working for.

John Olmsted


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