[Marxism] People say I'm crazy
cathandjohn at msn.com
Wed May 5 22:34:41 MDT 2004
This is a re-post in a format that is not a mile wide.
"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
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
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.
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