Why Can’t People Accept the Evidence of Mental Illness?
I have a question: why is it that some people can’t accept the evidence of mental illness? I mean, it’s not like we’re basing our knowledge on one or two studies – we’re basing our knowledge of mental illness on study after study after study. First there were observational studies, then familial ones, then genetic and then brain-mapping ones. It’s not a tiny amount of data we have here, there’s oodles of it. And yet, people are prepared to say that all the science is flawed and that mental illness doesn’t exist or that the effects of mental illness aren’t real? I just don’t get it.
Scientific Evidence of Mental Illness
I don’t have time to go through all the evidence of mental illness, but here’s an article I wrote on the biological evidence of depression. And if you’re interested in more evidence on the existence of bipolar disorder, see here.
But even if we had no scientific evidence, we would have observational evidence. In fact, this evidence dates back to the first century AD where a relationship between a depressed mood and a manic mood became apparent. There is a long history of the description of this illness throughout history.
Moreover, we have observational evidence in families. For example, if your parent has bipolar disorder, you have a 50% chance of having a serious mental illness. Does that strike anyone as a coincidence?
And while it’s clear that mental illness isn’t purely biological (if it were, then if one identical twin had it then the other would, de facto, have it as well, and this is not the case) it is clear that is exists and it is largely biological.
So why is all this evidence so hard for some people to believe?
Denying the Effects of Bipolar Disorder
And even those that admit there is a “symptom pattern” that others would term bipolar disorder, they refuse to label this as a disease. Well, a disease is a non-average state that causes harm to the carrier. Um, bipolar is exactly that.
(If you happen to be a person that considers your bipolar a gift, lucky you, but you’re in the tiny minority.)
And bipolar causes things like cognitive deficits – something else that people like to deny. Examples of this are problems with sustained attention, processing speed, memory and executive function. (Are some of those worsened with medication? Well, sometimes medication has a positive effect and sometimes medication has a negative effect on cognitive deficits.)
Vehement Bipolar Denial
And so, with all this evidence about bipolar disorder and its effects – why do people deny it and why do people get so mad at me for not denying it? (I mean, seriously. I’m just telling you what the science is, if you don’t like that then go and yell at the scientists.) It’s like people are mad at me for saying the Earth is round. Um, if you want to believe the Earth is flat, that’s your business, but I’ll side with logic and science, thanks.
Anyway, if you’d like to slam me for siding with science, now is your chance to do so. On the other hand, if you’d like to posit a suggestion for why people behave this way, you’re welcome to do that as well. Have at it kids.
Tracy, N. (2013, December 10). Why Can’t People Accept the Evidence of Mental Illness?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2013/12/why-cant-people-accept-evidence-mental-illness
Author: Natasha Tracy
Great idea for a topic. Until I get a chance to write on it, you might to read this one on something similar on my personal blog (not affiliated with HealthyPlace): https://natashatracy.com/bipolar-disorder/public-bipolar-online/
- Natasha Tracy
Medication IS empowering. I have plenty of bipolar friends but at the end of the day the lithium is what stops the suicidal depressions.
I applaud what you are doing with your charity. You might find if there was some scientific research into what you are trying to do there, that you could find out objectively which aspects of this were the most helpful, which were useless and which harmful.
There are many treatments out there which have been used for a long time and considered helpful, which fortunately have been discontinued because science has shown them to be harmful.
When it comes to mental illness, which is an emotional topic, our minds can easily be twisted by strong emotions into thinking a course of action or treatment is rational. The scientific process removes this thinking error to show the real situation.
I like the analogy of flat earth vs. round btw - good one!
My problem with the illness model is... if it helps you, and I mean helps to live, not to enable yourself to slack off from life, with "illness" as excuse... then great. On the other hand, I see people often doom themselves with it.
I call myself troubled, because that is my perception. It helps me to deal with the crap, to get by, to thrive.
Overrealiance on science will not get you anywhere. Science is not gonna give you the drive to live, unless you are actually scientist for living. That is where spirituality and philosophy come from. Some people just don't see "science" of their suffering all that important.
Seeing your recent postings, it seems science is not helping you all that much at the moment. It would be actually a *sciency* thing to go and try other untried approaches, instead of hoping trying the same thing will help you this time around.
Science is one component of human happiness and imho not even the most important one. Humanity survived without brain science for a ong time. Science doesn't seem to be making us happier at the moment. 26% of Americans have some emotional trouble (I know you find the term insulting, but I don't like the term "illness" all that much. I don't think suffering needs to be scienticized to be real). Where is the science to help us all? What do we do with the findings? are they any use after all? Aren't we forgetting something being so focused on "science" and brain scans and chemicals?
A longer, detailed answer to your question about hallucinations and the science of psychopathology and psychotherapy will be the topic of a blog post (oh goody, yes?), but here's a short answer:
Subjective states are the problem with mental illness. Yet we cannot directly observe them. In practice this is not nearly as much of a problem as might be expected, because internal states and objective behaviors (including verbal behavior) are closely enough correlated that we can measure and study the latter as a surrogate for the former, and it works fairly well. This is what we have found out in actual practice.
More on all that in the longer version!
I like your answer, so sorry for making fun, but here goes..
Do you observe hallucinations? You can observe someone hallucinating but you can't observe what they are seeing. You can observe their description of what they are seeing, and their reactions to it, but not the hallucination itself. That's part of what makes it an hallucination - nobody else can see it. You can't pass someone's perception around like a microscope.
Real mental illness exists in someone's mind. The observable and replicable parts that are listed in the DSM5 are not the illness itself but the signs of it. This is why something tangible is needed for us.
As a therapist, writer, and researcher, I do want to clarify/correct one point: Something isn't "scientific" because you see it through a microscope or in a brain scan. Science is just about careful observation, replicated. If we can replicate the observation, it's fact, and THAT makes it "scientific". It really is that simple. There are lots of ways to observe. We observe owls, so their existence is unquestioned. We can reliably observe mental illness, too, and it deserves the same respect.
Bipolar disorder has the advantage of having a decent change of getting a secure organic etiology. That's cool, but quite unnecessary. We can see it regularly and reliably just fine, without brain scans.
PTSD, while it can and usually (if not always) does show up in the brain as a effect, certainly cannot be traced to an organic cause. We have evidence that vulnerability to PTSD probably exists, but that is not causation. It's just part of the causal equation.
But, you see, at this point in the discussion, I've lost 95% of my readers. "Causal equation?" What in blazes is he talking about? My answer: It's taken me years of hard work to get to the level of understanding I presently have of these things about which I write. If you are lost at this point, it's about you, not me. You have work to do. Do some it, then let's talk.
Meanwhile, you have NO business telling me, and others like me, who live with and work with this stuff every day of our lives, that we haven't a clue what I'm talking about!
I think it's important to state that everyone carries this burden differently. Some people are affected in ways that others are not. It is a spectrum disorder. I have had the pleasure of conversing with many who do find gifts with this "disease". I am one of those people. I don't deny the existence of bipolar nor my need to address it, but it doesn't impact me negatively anymore. I think I'm much less of a minority than you state. I also have no doubt that in EVERY population, cognitive deficits are found... but you need to qualify this as it relates to bipolar. You can't state (with any veracity) that everyone experiences cognitive deficits.
I've found with treatment, yes medication, that I am able to harness the influx of energy and ideas and translate it into profoundly productive work, and art. My productivity and efficiency are improved by my treatment. I would like to think that I would perform better on an intelligence quotient exam treated, vs. not.
I'm sorry that you're getting any nasty messages. That's not appropriate or warranted obviously. I think it's brave to be able to state your position, and regardless of weather or not your opinion aligns with someone else, respect should always be maintained. I'm glad you are opening up discussions. It's a great thing.
Then there is the fact that mental illness challenges the world view of many people. This also causes a kind of spiritual grief that people get stuck in.
People are not rational creatures. They use and abuse science for their own purposes.