Models of Madness

Mental health services around the world are largely based on the assumption that being upset or disoriented is a sort of condition like medical illnesses. Here in Australasia, we imported this perspective from overseas, actively suppressing more holistic Maori and Aboriginal understandings about human distress. We did so despite numerous studies that show that recovery rates from “mental illness” in “underdeveloped” countries are far superior to those in “advanced” societies.

Nowadays, more and more problems are being redefined as “disorders” or “illnesses,” supposedly caused by genetic predispositions and biochemical imbalances. Life events are relegated to mere triggers of an underlying biological time bomb.

Thus, feeling very sad has become “depressive disorder.” Worrying too much is “anxiety disorder.” Being painfully shy has become “avoidant personality disorder.” Beating up people is “intermittent explosive disorder.” Excessive gambling, drinking, drug use, or eating are also illnesses. The same applies to having too little food, sleep, or sex. Our Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has 886 pages of such illnesses. Unusual or undesirable behaviors are called “symptoms” and the labels are “diagnoses.”

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