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My ideas are constantly changing as I learn. Sometimes they even change midway through writing a post.

Friday, August 5

Mental Illness and Impairments to Healthy Functioning

I'm trying to work out a response to this post but am getting very stuck. Here's the post and my efforts at a response so far:

Re: Reply to Kolya
Becky wrote:

I think mental disorders do share some important characteristics with "medical illnesses" in that they're an "impairment to normal functioning". Personally, I think "healthy" would be a better term - as in "impairment to healthy functioning" (being different from "normal" might not actually be an impairment to health).

Can you not think of other conditions that also 'share some important characteristics with "medical illnesses" in that they're an impairment to healthy functioning', but which it would be morally wrong and practically harmful to think of as illnesses?

If so, what is the significant difference between those things and 'mental illnesses'?

by David Deutsch on Sat, 07/30/2005 - 12:13

Good question.

I'm having trouble thinking of a specific example such as you suggest.

I can see where my description falls short, but I've gone around several different ways of describing it and see no way of looking at it that doesn't become a confusing jumble.

Thinking of poor Joe. It seems "obvious" that he's got a mental impairment and needs help. This is partly based on my thinking there are no demons (or Jesus or anything "supernatural") and yet I don't propose curing all religious people of an "illness" (that doesn't sound like a bad idea on the surface, but I expect there are some huge complications and moral problems with that).

Along this vein, what if the girls of Salem had all been treated? The story goes that some girls started acting very strangely and lacking any explanation for a physical cause, their neighbors and relatives went on to conclude that it was satan at work. The descriptions of their behavior sound rather scary and make me wonder whether there wasn't some exposure to toxic chemicals. Why did all their neighbors and friends assume it was the work of witchcraft vs. some as-yet-undiscovered ailment? Would they have refrained from burning people at the stake? It seems like there's a fair chance they would have agreed with Joe about some of his delusions! It seems that in the case of the girls, they likely needed medical treatment. In the case of the neighbors, they needed better ideas. Better ideas could have eliminated a lot of needless deaths and helped the girls, so would better medical knowledge and even the expectation that physical ailments might explain their behavior (even if the specific cause never get discovered).

OTOH, what if Joe's exact problem is distinguishing his own fantasy from his own concept of reality? He generally doesn't think he's Jesus or that demons make themselves visible, but is in such a state that what are normally imaginings get confused with reality.

The only difference that I can see between Joe and the people of Salem a long time ago might be that Joe eventually thinks that he'd been wrong. Perhaps some of the people of Salem came to think so too later..

Would it have been harmful to think of all the people in Salem as being mentally ill vs. murderers? Possibly. Maybe treating them as responsible and culpable would deter others from drawing hasty conclusions about things based on flimsy evidence.


Steve D said...

That David Deutsch?

Incidentally, you seem to have two different commenting functions available; I'd been using the Haloscan before ..

Becky said...

Yes, that's the David. As for the comments. I had the old system up for a while before I discovered the blogger system. I didn't want to lose the old stuff... and it's nice to have a backup feature if I ever actually get many comments.

Steve D said...

Interesting; Wikipedia claims that he's involved in something called Taking Children Seriously, which touches on a lot of the stuff I've been thinking about recently ..

Becky said...

Yes, there are sidebar links on this blog to the current TCS website where many of his articles are present. I don't think I've ever posted about TCS on this blog. I have a lot of thoughts (and experience) with it, but I've got some serious criticisms of it. It's difficult to post about them in full without referring to my children, though, and to revealing private details about them and myself - and this is a public forum. It would also be difficult to give every possibly relevant detail in any case. I'd like to at least attempt to discuss it here at some point. In the meantime, I'd be happy to discuss it privately. My email address can be found near the top of the blog.