What is mental illness?

What follows is my take on trying to understand mental illness or mental difficulties.  It is based on how I use the Human Givens insights, both for me and my clients.

I am not an academic and merely a humble private practitioner.  My authority such as it is, is my experience in helping the large majority of people who come to see me. So enjoy – if that is not too hard to do.

Most mental and emotional difficulties are not mental illnesses. They are not caused by bacteria or viruses; they are not caused by a physical organ or brain failure or dysfunction, or by a genetic mutation or an unfortunate genetic inheritance.  They are not linked to a failure of the immune system or to a cancerous type cell failure.  There are no chemical or biological markers or scanning that can identify any mental illness.

Mental illness is a lack of emotional and cognitive fitness.   And this lack of fitness is of course fuelled by a deficiency of the right kind of training. What else could it be? If you don’t use it you lose it – or at the very least if you use it in an inappropriate manner and given that the body mind system is complex and interconnected, then you will be storing up trouble.  That trouble is what we call mental illness – the inevitable unravelling and failures to self correct or heal.

It can be put even more simply.  Most mental problems are the normal and predictable responses to a life that is not working too well.  Vicious circles are part of most mental problems, which in turn are the failure of our natural and automatic self equilibrating or healing – despite doing the best we can.  For most mental problems also there will be somewhere down the line, the experience of a serious threat or traumatic memory that is still ever lingering and reactivating.  Clearly trauma can amplify vicious circles and disable our natural automatic self equilibrating capacities (or virtuous circle).

Understanding depressions, anxieties and addictions and you understand most mental illness

There are three broad responses to the stress of a life that is not working and hence where emotions are not under control.  One is to worry about it, the second is to fear it and the third is to protect against it.  If worry is the primary response, then depressions will arise.  Fear will induce a wide range of anxiety responses and protection is the addictive/obsessive response.

But these three responses – of worry, fear and protection are not separate.  There is no clear water between them.  Instead there is a continuum between the three and with fear response nestling between the other two.

I am not suggesting for moment that depression, addiction or anxieties are anything other than close cousins.  They are on a continuum that can manifest in many different ways.  This is particularly so with anxieties, where there are many – performance, social, phobias, generalised anxieties as the generic term, and so on.

But the differences are much less important than the similarities and they all merge into the other.

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