The Americanization of Mental Illness (New York Times)
I don’t know how I missed this article when it came out. It basically describes a lot of the negative effects that the USA is having on other cultures, when we export our supposedly “scientific, objective” views of “mental illness”. People suddenly starting to show psychiatric symptoms in patterns that never existed in their cultures before that. People suddenly being treated worse (in America and elsewhere) when mental illness is seen as a “brain disease” (suggesting that NAMI’s approach to “stigma” is having the opposite effect to what’s intended — although unfortunately the article didn’t go too much into the fact that it’s a problem when people see something that’s a fixed part of one’s body as being worse than other sorts of problems). People suddenly not faring as well under Americanized treatments than they did in the way their cultures were handling things already. The article doesn’t romanticize how other cultures treat mental illness either — the end says that all cultures have good and bad points in that regard.
I’ve long been disturbed at the way that Western psychiatry treats itself as a science akin to medicine, with “illness” being not just a metaphor but a presumed fact. (Even when I was in the psych system I hated that people would say I “got sick” when I’d just attempted suicide, or other bizarre things like that. I remember a boy in a mental institution with me who was there because he’d taken a gun and shot his television and a bunch of other objects. Someone sent him in a bunch of balloons that said “Get Well Soon” on them. Every last one of us in the dayroom at the time found that bizarre and laughable.) The article emphasizes the way our minds, and therefore our cultures, play a much larger role in shaping these things than Western psychiatry will generally admit. And the idea that we’re sending that part of our culture around the world disturbs me more than most of the other things we export.