Sunday, April 03, 2011

Mental Illness: Where is the Soul 16?


River Liffey, Dublin, August, 2007
The Chicken and the Egg 

It would seem that much in life can be summed up in old paradoxes or traditional puzzles.  This is certainly one of them: Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?  In his next letter Dr James Hillman raises a rather similar paradox with respect to mental illness.  What comes first, asks Hillman, a psychiatric state of depression or an ecologically attributed symptom?  In other words: "Do we feel down because we are sick, or are we sick because we feel down?" (Op. cit., p. 80)  As a sufferer from endogenous depression I am very interested in Hillman's musings.  Perhaps for him they are academic, if I may attribute a merely scholarly interest to the learned man.  I do not know if Hillman has ever suffered from depression himself and I am here presuming here that he hasn't. 

As a sufferer, I certainly felt and believed that I was very sick at the time when I had my worst episode of depression - a breakdown which led to seven weeks of hospitalization.  Thankfully, through medical intervention, I have not once experienced a recurrence since, and that was some 12 or more years ago.  Certainly I was in a stressful job, but it was one in which I was not under undue pressure at the time.  Reactive depression was ruled out early on by my consultant psychiatrist.  That's not to say that either he or I denied the negative influence of the stressors in life, either at work or on a more personal front.  Ever since I have believed in stress-reducing exercises and in actively avoiding stress-making situations.  And so I find the following a little too dogmatic, though as a rational human being I see some little truth in it all the same:

Psychiatry prefers to believe that the new diagnosis called "environmental illness" or "multiple chemical sensitivity" is a cop-out from the real problem: the patient is simply depressed.  The headaches and nausea, the fatigue and lack of libido, the occasional dizziness and circulatory disorders start inside the patient.  This is the old idea of self-caused (endogenic) depression.  It's you, not the world, that is making you sick, so treatment begins with you, not the world.  (Ibid., p. 81)
In a sense this goes back to the chicken and egg paradox or puzzle adverted to above in my opening comments.  In the really long term I admit that Hillman may just be correct and that, given the most ideal of circumstances, that causes of mental illness may be traced to this, that or the other cause in the world, that further, should enough awareness be admitted and funding be made available for their elimination then maybe, just maybe, we can take all that Hillman states here on board.  Whether caused by either inner or outer reasons, the real existential state of the poor depressed human being reaching out for some medical help or intervention is in no way alleviated.  The idea of treating the world is a highly Platonic, idealist and Utopian position, I believe.

Again, I wholeheartedly agree that psychiatry has an obvious vested interest in its diagnoses of "endogenous" and indeed other types of depression and indeed in the diagnoses of all "mental illnesses" which the likes of Hillman, Thomas Szasz and many more in the anti-psychiatry movement deny as existing at all - their merely being a construction of psychiatry for its own self-advancement and for the payment of its consultants.

However, a fact I assert again and again, Hillman is brilliant in so far as he gets one thinking.  He is nothing if not provocative, and my goodness we need as many intellectual provocateurs as possible today lest we begin to swallow whole our own propaganda.   He goes on in this letter to state that certain contemporary studies have shown that "the irritations of daily life," such as environmental problems in all their shapes and forms, racism, noise pollution, over-crowding, bad air quality, crime of all levels of seriousness, information-overload (= hypercommunication), long queues for hospital treatment and so on and so forth are the causes of much mental illness.  Then, he says in a rather striking personification that "at last therapy is going to have to go out the door with the client, maybe even make home visits, or at least walk down the street."  (Ibid., p. 81)  Again very idealist, no?

Dublin City, August, 2007
Then, Hillman publishes a letter he received from a woman client (of a Jungian analyst) who had been suffering from a "load-grade depression" for some ten years while she lived in L.A. and the analysis did no good at all in all that time.  She recovered fully once she had decided to leave that city against the advice of her analyst who thought she was running away from her problems.  Hillman states that he is merely appending this letter in his Post Script to advance for us a good example of "recovery" from the dogma of interiorization.  (See ibid., p. 82)  Once again, I find this anything but convincing because it is simply a story or an anecdote, and as thinkers and philosophers we should be very sceptical of anecdotes being advanced as evidence for anything.  There are many possible reasons that could be advanced for this lady's recovery from "low-grade depression" outside the one Hillman gives us.  I see now as I continue to read this letter that our learned doctor admits quite clearly my criticism above.  He goes on to say that what he is actually about is just emphasizing how modern cities affect the psyche of human beings.

Good Insight into Psyche

Whatever about the above, once again Hillman gives us a remarkably broad understanding of the psyche and this we must rejoice in.  He underlines the fact that the body is psyche, insofar as what the body does, how it moves and what it senses is all involved in  the psyche.  That is what I mean by the term Body-Soul which I use again and again in these posts in this blog.  He affirms that the psyche "exists wholly in relational systems.  It is not a free radical, a monad, self-determined.  The next step is to realize that the city, where the body lives and moves, and where the relational network is woven, is also psyche." (ibid., p. 83)

Collective Unconscious

Hillman is a Jungian or at least an archetype psychologist and so believes very much in the concept of the collective unconscious.  This he underlines by stressing that Jung himself defined this reality as being in fact the world itself.  He goes on to further stress another belief of the founder of analytical psychology, namely that we are in the psyche rather than than the fact that the psyche is in us.