Seeing mental illness differently
If you look carefully, very carefully, at the enormous expansion of the mental health professions and the pharmaceutical industries “treating” chemically problems with thoughts and feelings, you will soon see that they are both treating problems in living for the most part. I do not mean to eradicate biology or genetics, but I do mean to register the claim that even they are modifiable by environmental influences. The preponderance of psychological problems are caused by life itself. Life, that complex, often unpredictable and sometimes cruel force that inhabits us all just as we inhabit it.
In my many years as a practicing psychologist, I have come to think of so-called disorders as quite the opposite. They are quite orderly outcomes of living in certain families and within certain cultural constraints.
Take, as an example, so-called “eating disorders” which emerge in cultures of plenty that also are obsessed by the appearance of bodies. Women develop anorexia and bulimia or some combination. Many also report the strategy of fattening up after being sexually assaulted as a protection. This is one example that is a function of gender. Another, equally a function of gender is the disproportionate amount of violence perpetrated by men in societies that define violence as a characteristic of masculinity. These are indeed toxic forms of femininity and masculinity.
My point here is to present these maladies as what they are. Not mental illnesses. Not even mental disorders. They are STDs, Socially Transmitted Diseases. Seeing clearly their sources permits the same clarity of vision to be applied in treatment. That is, treatment must include the broadest scope, that of society as an entity. Society is not one thing, but creates a complex and multi-faceted context, including gender, race, ethnicity, class and more areas of influence on each individual than I can list here. See my work on the Mattering Map or future blogs for more detail.
And see mental illness for what it is, a collection of STDs.
 Kaschak, E. The mattering map: morphing and multiplicity. In Bruns, C. and Kaschak, E.(Eds.) Feminist Therapy in the 21st Century, Taylor and Francis, 2010.
 Kaschak, E. (2010). The Mattering Map: Immigrant Assessment and Treatment. Women and Therapy, 36:3-4.
 Kaschak, E. (2013) The Mattering Map: Confluence and Influence, Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37:4.
Kaschak, E. (1992), Engendered Lives: A New Psychology of Women’s Experience, Basic Books, New York.