The Reading List We Need
September 8, 2013 will mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Thomas Szasz. For more than fifty years the Hungarian psychiatrist argued tirelessly that “mental illness” was a harmful myth and a self-serving metaphor employed by the psychiatric industry to drum up business.
He wrote in The Myth of Mental Illness:
[My aim] is to suggest that the phenomena now called mental illnesses be looked at afresh and more simply, that they be removed from the category of illnesses, and that they be regarded as the expressions of man’s struggle with the problem of how he should live.
In contemporary social usage, the finding of mental illness is made by establishing a deviance in behavior from certain psychosocial, ethical or legal norms … This creates a situation in which it is claimed that psychosocial, ethical or legal deviations can be corrected by medical action. Since medical interventions are designed to remedy only medical problems, it is logically absurd to expect that they will help solve problems whose very existence has been defined and established on non-medical grounds.
There is nothing new about what we who are arguing against the DSM and the medical model of mental illness are saying. It has been said before, smartly and eloquently, and has fallen on deaf ears decade after decade. Our adversaries, the overreaching doctor and the compliant patient alike, are too numerous and too well placed to fight. When the doctor is happy prescribing and the patient is happy ingesting, what is a critic to do?
Perhaps one small step is to remember the wonderful minds that have championed this cause and to send folks to read them. There is Thomas Szasz and his many books; there is Jay Haley, whose “The Art of Being Schizophrenic” is a must read; there is the excellent Methods of Madness: The Mental Hospital as a Last Resort by Braginsky, Braginsky and Ring, now more than forty years old, but still sparkling. Perhaps somewhere there is a wonderful reading list where we could send those interested in “diagnostic alternatives” and the history of this crusade. But if such a reading list does not exist, it would be a blessing if someone created it.