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The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct Paperback – February 23, 2010
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“Enormously courageous and highly infomative, and it makes fascinating reading . . . bold and often brilliant.” (Science)
“Controversial and influential . . . an iconoclastic work.” (Joyce Carol Oates, New York Times Book Review)
“Szasz’s radical views on mental illness and drug addiction have been presented with great consistency and courage . . . I predict that Dr. Szasz’s work and thought will once again come to the fore: he takes the long view.” (Will Self, The Times (London))
“A classic.” (Salon.com)
“A damning critique of mental illness . . . a classic work.” (Toronto Star)
“Quite probably, Szasz has done more than any other man to alert the American public to the potential dangers of an excessively psychiatrized society.” (Atlantic Monthly)
From the Back Cover
50th Anniversary Edition With a New Preface and Two Bonus Essays
The most influential critique of psychiatry ever written, Thomas Szasz's classic book revolutionized thinking about the nature of the psychiatric profession and the moral implications of its practices. By diagnosing unwanted behavior as mental illness, psychiatrists, Szasz argues, absolve individuals of responsibility for their actions and instead blame their alleged illness. He also critiques Freudian psychology as a pseudoscience and warns against the dangerous overreach of psychiatry into all aspects of modern life.
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I've had some time off recently, so I wanted to really investigate the science behind my disorder. I started with two books on mental health policy over the past 50 years ( "American Psychosis" for a negative take, and "Better but Not Well" for a more positive, mainstream take), then I read the latest psychiatric information about the disorder- the suspected genetic causes , the brain chemistry approach, the neurological evidence from the official peer-reviewed literature. I altogether found it unsatisfying. Everywhere I turned, it was always "While the specific mechanism is unknown, it is believed..." or "While specific genes cannot be found, it does seem to run in families..." Even the neurological explanation didn't seem able to distinguish cause from effect, or come up with any predictive mechanism. I began to really question the mainstream, so I read "Anatomy of an Epidemic", which was an excellent summary of all the research showing that the brain-chemistry model is ineffective. I even investigated my own medication, and found that Lamictal, the primary drug of choice for bipolar treatment, was found to be ineffective in 7 out of 9 clinical trials ( Of course GSK only published the positive two).
All Thomas Szasz really says here is that we can't view mental illness, that is to say, the major mood disorders and psychoses, as normal diseases. We can't pretend that mental illness is some exogenous force that is totally irrelevant of the victim's life experiences, the victims traumas and tragedies, and the victim's behaviors. In fact, new research into the pscychosocial explanation finds very strong evidence for the importance of these things in predicting the incidence of mental illness. And if its true, as Szasz argues, that there is this very strong psychosocial element, then therapy to understand these issues and perceptions and to allow the patient to change behavior is the best option for treatment. Again, research shows the efficacy of Psychotherapy in general as well as CBT specifically.
Finally, I can say he is 100% correct in his assertion that much of psychiatry is inhumane. Involuntary treatment, and even the attitude that certain ways of life are "right" and other ways "bad," are means of controlling people. They are a way for society to get rid of undesirables and call it compassion, and on the other side, an escape valve for the oppressed. A key piece of evidence for this is that "homosexuality" was a mental illness for a long time, something we would scoff at now; that was a means of social control, not a means of helping the patient. Healing can only occur in an atmosphere of respect and dignity, where the doctor respects the patient's rights and autonomy, and where the patient takes responsibility.
The book is quite plodding at points, but if you skip his abstract explanations and jump straight to the examples he gives, it is very clear. While I'm not convinced that all mental illness is purely a construction, I think Szasz hits the nail on the head for the general direction Psychiatry has moved.
Top international reviews
He deftly deconstructs the medicalisation of behaviour and offers brilliant insight into the nature of mental problems, but I am left thinking: well, what now?
Also, from a psychiatric perspective, most of the patients do not seem to be suffering from a major psychiatric illness in modern terms
Dense information writing in an excellent straightforward style.
If your interested in mental health and the issues involved (politicaly minded also) then this is the read for you. The perspective offered by Szasz is very informative.