The CULT of Mental Health


by Kenneth Justice

~ In 1974 the American Psychological Association reversed its position on same sex attraction; what they previously defined as a mental disorder (some manuscripts even listed it as a ‘perversion’) they now stated was nothing more than a natural element of life. Prior to the APA’s reversal, if a person were to go to a therapist or psychologist and mention same sex attraction there was a good chance they would be told they had a mental disorder, and in some cases even be admitted into a psychiatric ward.

Psychologists and the APA have a long standing tradition of poorly diagnosing the public, from viewing women as a second class gender and suffering from penis envy, to throwing thousands of people in psychiatric wards throughout the 20th century and treating them worse than laboratory rats.

In the last 20 years we’e seen a massive increase in the number of people prescribed psychotropic drugs from simple sleeping problems to not sitting still in classroom. According to a research study, “more money is spent promoting the new “wonder drugs” in the United States than on all medical school and residency training put together”. Think about that for a moment; more money is spent promoting drugs than on training medical professionals!

It wasn’t that long ago that it was illegal for hospitals and pharmaceutical companies to advertise in print media, radio, and television. But now it is common fare to hear a radio commercial or see a television advertisement promising you a better life if you ask your doctor to prescribe you a particular drug.

Isn’t there something wrong with a society that spends more money promoting drugs than training the medical professionals who prescribe the drugs? To borrow the colloquialism, we here in Western Culture have swallowed, hook line and sinker, the idea that we need to take a pill if we are sad, can’t sleep, or can’t sit still.

And what happens if you end up having serious side effects due to a misdiagnosis from a psychological professional? Do they lose their license? Do they have to reimburse you money or lost income from the drug that screwed up your life? Do they give you free therapy for life for harming you? Generally no.

A good friend of mine went through some serious depression following some major career setbacks after college. He was prescribed a drug by his psychiatrist that turned him into a zombie and literally crippled his mental and physical abilities for years. His doctors told him he was severely mentally ill and would never be able to work a job ever again. Surprisingly enough (not surprising actually) he switched doctors, got off the drug that was harming him, was prescribed something that was much more mild, and now a decade later he has been successfully working a 40 a week job for a few years now.

I would never suggest that all drugs (or all psychotropic drugs) are bad. There is a time and place to use them, and in some circumstances they can be extremely helpful. But in a society that spends more money promoting drugs, than training the medical professionals that prescribe them, we have created a brave new world of craziness.

Western Culture has in many ways become a society disconnected from nature. We spend more time in office buildings and automobiles than we do walking through the woods. We spend more time staring at the television than we do staring at a sunrise or watching birds fly alongside a stream.

How can we not expect to be more depressed, stressed out, and anxious when we literally poured a bunch of cement all over nature and removed ourselves from the very earth of which we came? How can we know what is a true mental illness and what isn’t when we’ve created lifestyles that are void of a connection to nature?

The Cult of Mental Health has taught us that the answer to all our problems is drugs. While drugs in certain situations can be a positive blessing to our lives, it is undeniable that until we learn to realign ourselves with a more emotionally sustainable way of life, we will never find peace.

Living in an artificial world is not mentally or physically fulfilling. Staring at screens, sitting in offices, and being stuck in stop-and-go traffic are unnatural to who we are as creatures. There is a reason that caged animals at zoos tend to have a shorter lifespan than animals in the wild. A recent study I read mentioned that elephants who walk on cement at the zoo are more prone to early onset arthritis than elephants in the wild.

It is a tragedy of Western Culture that when developers build suburban neighborhoods they tend to begin by tearing down all the trees in order for the overall cost of sprawl to be cheaper; its more expensive to build around trees as opposed to planting them later.

Perhaps fifty years from now the APA will change their positions on many of their published diagnoses; perhaps their manuals will encourage doctors to tell their patients to spend more time walking through the woods as a way of combating anxiety or to spend more time in community with friends as a way of curbing depression.

While drugs are not evil, the misdiagnosis and over diagnosis of drugs is unethical and irresponsible.

Just a few thoughts as I sipped my coffee,



Journal of Medical Humanities, Vol. 24, Nos. 1/2, Summer 2003 (°C 2003)

A Very Childish Moral Panic: Ritalin

Toby Miller1,3 and Marie Claire Leger2

Categories: Culture & Society

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. Thought provoking and insightful post – Thank you!

  2. I wouldn’t call it a cult, but I agree with your other points. Have you seen the Last Week Tonight segment about pharma companies marketing directly to doctors?

  3. Something that always fascinates me, some Christians really like to focus on the dangers of witchcraft, as if witchcraft somehow involves wiccan feminism and women in rebellion against God. In the bible however, the word witchcraft comes from the Greek, “pharmakeia,” the same word we get pharmaceuticals from. Witchcraft in biblical times usually involved sorcerers working for the king and drugging people to manipulate court intrigue or force compliance. We now have this huge and powerful pharmaceutical industry closely aligned with our government, not unlike the unholy alliance that existed in biblical times.

  4. study the rise of the american pharma industry and it becomes quite obvious that the emphasis is not on healing but on profit . . . mental/physical health is oriented towards profit also . . . that’s why we see more emphasis on hard on drugs than curing MS . . .

    we are living in a dark ages that will only be fully recognized after we evolve out of it.

  5. I think the problem is not psychiatry, but that people are not viewed as having multiple facets (ie. Body, soul, spirit, social, psyche, etc.) To really heal someone we have to look at the whole. Our modern western way of doing medicine has providers just looking at their part (their specialty) and not the whole person. This is ineffective at best and actually damaging at worst.

  6. Indeed problematic for such issue. Even my dad and other relatives were often misdiagnosed. Even me too. Thank God upon I switch doctor, my doctor told me that the medication can only help me temporarily but not in the long run.

  7. Hi Kenneth,

    I have long thought that many of the conditions diagnosed as “mental illness” are really spiritual issues. Giving someone a drug may suppress the symptoms, but it cannot deal with the underlying causes. Unfortunately, in our secular society doctors are not allowed to explore or address spiritual issues. It is seen as “unscientific.” This leaves them hacking away at the branches instead of getting at the root of their patients’ problems.

  8. tell it tell it!!! You might want to also address as mental health theory of what is “normal” is a theory that will probably be one day disproven. For instance, I was call psychotic for thinking God talked to me. I guess I’m in good company since most of the people in the Bible thought the same but that was 2000 years ago and we’re supposed to have progressed to taking a pill when He speaks. I suppose I should look in the DSM to see if I have a soul, if I’m allowed.

  9. I wonder if the root of the problem is that mental health is less quantifiable than physical health? For instance, some of the definitions for sanity are based on social norms, which means they work out to a consensus. That means the goal is questionable (what of the non-conformists who are perfectly happy?). Without a rigorous quantification of the goal, how can one identify illness or know if treatments work — in any way that matters that is?

  10. In some cases medications are the difference between life and death. I’ve worked with CMI (Chronically Mentally Ill) populations as a part of my work in human services. To see someone go from slashing their wrists and eating light bulbs (not an effective suicide method) and eating pipe tobacco to able to hold down a job due to the application of lithium and it reminds one of “Awakenings” (the movie). In the arena of biologically based brain disorders medications have a role, not the only role, but something of a role to play.

    However, we also know that people recover just as quickly from psychotic break without drugs IF they have a supportive society. Which we do not have. And that’s the rub. We don’t treat people with serious mental illness as if they are blessed by the gods.

    Mental health is a soft science. It is harder to quantify. The people doing the testing and postulating take cues from society. Things that were not a problem (hatred of minorities) may move into the problem area – another thought. But we do know that certain mental health issues run in families and may have a DNA trigger. Someday (assuming society lasts that long) we may run the DNA scan of a fetus, apply fixes for everything from certain death to mental illness and have the child come out normal – whatever “normal” is.

    Also to be noted is that almost all treatment for addiction is now dual diagnosis – it is not just an addiction problem, but also a mental health problem (often personality disorders, bipolar, etc.) and you have to address both to help the person. 12 step programs deal with the spiritual causes. In some cases, only a antipsychotic will keep a person stable enough to address the other issues. As with all issues – it is complex.

    Good topic.

  11. I think you are onto something. Nature helps center folks. God made it that way. Or He made us that way. There is peace out in the woods with the sun shining through the trees it is rather inspiring really. I do believe folks should spend much more time in nature and less time with the television

  12. Reblogged this on Explore America with Kids and commented:
    The majority of the patients I work with (I am an RN) list their history as having some type of anxiety disorder or depression! Are we as a nation really that stressed out? I would also say that about 75% of the patients I have also take some type of medication for their “disorders”. Granted, some of these people really do need these medications, or have genuine schizophrenia or PTSD. However, it just seems like it is the majority. Good article, I will look forward to your posts.

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