"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sadness or Mental Illness?

Your neighbor has lost his job.  He's struggling to find a new one.   His wife is working nights as a waitress to help make ends meet.   They've had to cut back on some things -- they've sold his fishing boat, and they're not going to go on vacation this year, and their kids maybe have to cut back on the Irish Dance lessons and the summer basketball camps.  Needless to say, things are a little tense at home.   Your buddy maybe raises his voice a little more often to his kids or his wife, or else has one too many drinks at night, or else looks a little ragged when you see him outside doing work around the house.  A little less shaving, a little less exercise, a little less attention to what he's wearing. 

In the 1930s or 1940s or 1950s, you would describe your neighbor as having a tough time, or as going through a rough patch.   You would say that your neighbor is sad or unhappy.  You might invite him over to your house for a beer, or take him to a ballgame.  You might have their family at your house for Thanksgiving dinner, with the unspoken idea being to save your neighbor from having to pay for the turkey and fixings.  You might give him the names of people you know who may be looking to hire.   You would tell him that things are going to turn around, just you wait, buddy.

In the 2010s, apparently the politically correct conclusion is that your unhappy neighbor is suffering from a mental illness, depression, and needs to seek professional treatment:
More than 45 million Americans, or 20 percent of U.S. adults, had some form of mental illness last year, and 11 million had a serious illness, U.S. government researchers reported on Thursday.
Young adults aged 18 to 25 had the highest level of mental illness at 30 percent, while those aged 50 and older had the lowest, with 13.7 percent, said the report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or SAMHSA.
The rate, slightly higher than last year's 19.5 percent figure, reflected increasing depression, especially among the unemployed, SAMHSA, part of the National Institutes of Health, said.
"Too many Americans are not getting the help they need and opportunities to prevent and intervene early are being missed," Pamela Hyde, SAMHSA's administrator, said in a statement.
"The consequences for individuals, families and communities can be devastating. If left untreated mental illnesses can result in disability, substance abuse, suicides, lost productivity, and family discord."
The 2009 mental health survey hints at the impact of record unemployment rates, which last year hit a 25-year high as struggling employers slashed jobs to cope with a weak economy.
To me, this sort of thing does not represent an alarming health issue; it represents an alarming ideological shift in America and (probably) in Western culture generally.  We now believe that normal human emotions like sadness (when bad things happen to you or your family) are a mental illness that can be treated (by therapy? by drugs?).   The work of friends and neighbors and priests is ceded to "professionals" in the health care industry and, inevitably, to the bureaucrats in the insurance industry and (ultimately) in government.    Is it impossible to foresee the Orwellian future world where, in order to get unemployment benefits, a government bureaucrat tells the applicant that it is mandatory that he submit to psychological evaluation and treatment?

Depression is a real thing.  Schizophrenia is a real thing.  Bipolar disorder is a real thing.  But we are going to be far gone as a functioning society if we start down the road toward defining ordinary human unhappiness as a mental illness.  Far, far, gone.  

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