Social Question

LostInParadise's avatar

Is schizophrenia a person's attempt to resolve an existential dilemma?

Asked by LostInParadise (31822points) September 2nd, 2015

Some questions regarding schizophrenia were recently posted and at the same time a person at a local discussion group made the assertion that schizophrenia is not a disease. The arguments he gave were not very good, so I did a Web search to see if anyone else is of that opinion. I found this site maintaining that schizophrenia is a person’s attempt to resolve an existential dilemma and that the right approach is not to medicate, which stands in the way of the healing process, but to provide support in the knowledge that the person will come out of this more enlightened and better off than before becoming schizophrenic.

To me it seems like a lot of malarkey, but I did a search for reviews and references to the writer’s book Rethinking Madness and have not seen any really negative reviews. I also came across a lot of articles criticizing the whole notion of mental illness and denying that psychiatry is a legitimate profession.

I would appreciate your comments on this.

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15 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

Sounds like you have been reading literature from Scientologists.

Medicine has demonstrated chemical imbalances that have affected brain processing. To deny medication to someone suffering from delusions is cruel and heartless. The resolution of existential dilemma often leads to suicide.

gorillapaws's avatar

There is a proven genetic component to the disease, and it’s been shown to be a physical problem in the brain. Medication has been proven to help people with schizophrenia (although the side effects can be very rough). Sites pumping misinformation about mental illness are dangerous and could encourage people to make bad decisions that could lead to people getting hurt or loosing their lives.

josie's avatar

The idea that most mental disorders are problems with unresolved conflicts and can be “cured” by recognizing and resolving the conflicts has never been proven and is out of date.

A pretty interesting and easy book to read is Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry by Dr. Jeffery Lieberman

DoNotKnow's avatar

I don’t have much to add to what has already been said, as I suspect that much of the nonsense about not treating mental illness is connected to Scientology or other people who hold deeply unscientific beliefs.

It reminds me of people who confuse depression with feeling sad. Schizophrenia is no more an existential dilemma than cancer is.

kritiper's avatar

A subconscious attempt, not a conscious one.

JLeslie's avatar

Sounds like bullshit to me.

I do believe the brain can lay new wiring throughout life, and we can rewire to some extent through experiences, including talk therapy, but some of the wiring is preset, and environmental influences can only change it so much.

SmashTheState's avatar

“Chemical imbalance in the brain”: the 21st century equivalent of “imbalance of humours” or “a displaced uterus.”

Neuronormative prejudice is the only “problem” with schizophrenia. Non-treated schizophrenics reports that their voices are either funny, mischievious, or friendly. Only in places where neuronormative oppression occurs and schizophrenic thinking is “treated” do the voices become angry, aggressive, hectoring, or malevolent. There is no such thing as “mental illness.” Some types of thinking can be problematic – for example clinical depression – not because of the thinking itself but because of the kind of culture we’ve created.

I’ve lived with severe and untreatable clinical depression all my life, yet clinical studies have proven that depressed people show markedly superior judgement to non-depressed people in tests like estimating whether a given shape will fit a given hole. The reason my depression results in such lifelong misery is not the depression itself, but the fact that our fucked-up capitalist society punishes me for not being able to work on a predictable clockwork 9–5 schedule, sentencing me to a life of grinding poverty because I happen to think differently.

keobooks's avatar

Doctors haven’t believed that stuff since the 60s. If it’s some sort of existential dilemma, why do most, if not all, of the symptoms go away with medication?

DoNotKnow's avatar

@SmashTheState – Conspiracy theory aside, do you actually know anyone with schizophrenia?

The people I worked with had been untreated for many years – and it was hell. There was nothing funny about paranoia and voices that sent one guy shooting at a police station and walking into the place begging for help. There was nothing cute about the schizophrenia that led a loving father to poison his young children. And there was nothing friendly about another guy’s inability to leave his apartment because the voices of Robert Redford and the FBI were telling him that they were going to sexually torture him. There was nothing pleasant about a 20-year-old, who had tried to kill himself multiple times “just to make them stop”.

Once these people recieved treatment, their lives didn’t become amazing. But they all reported the “dark days” to me. Those “dark days” were pre-treatment.

SmashTheState's avatar

@DoNotKnow I’ve spent my entire professional life surrounded by people punished for “mental illness.” Those people you’re talking about live in a society full of people like you who have told them that thinking differently is bad or scary or pitiful or inferior. They internalize these attitudes and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, the same way every other oppressed minority becomes dysfunctional and is then punished for that dysfunction.

DoNotKnow's avatar

@SmashTheState – I’m not sure how to respond here. Are you saying that the guy who poisoned his own kids that he loved only did so because society’s negative views of mental illness transformed his fun-lovin’ voices in his head from jokey fun-time to “kill your kids”?

And just to be clear – you are being serious, correct? Is this a philosophical thing, in which you don’t believe we are biological machines? Is this a corruption of the soul type of thing?

SmashTheState's avatar

That is exactly what I believe. You’re acting like this is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard. About 40% of the US prison population is black. Why do you suppose that is? Is it because they have a “chemical imbalance” that makes them prone to criminal behaviour? Does their skin colour make them inherently violent and dishonest? Or could it be that they’re forced to live in an oppressive culture which not only punishes people for their skin colour or ethnic heritage but blames the victim for having been punished?

In cultures where so-called schizophrenic thinking is accepted and considered normal, people are not tormented by demonic voices telling them to poison their children. You have so accepted the concept of “mental illness” that there’s likely nothing I can say which will shake you from your view.

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.”C.S. Lewis

gorillapaws's avatar

@SmashTheState I’d love to see some data evidence supporting your claims. Anecdotes don’t count. There is a robust amount of research supporting the current theories of mental illness with double-blinded clinical trials.

LostInParadise's avatar

I have heard this story before about how in other cultures those that we consider schizophrenic are adulated for their connections to the other world. Here is a video of a talk given by the neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky describing an encounter with a schizophrenic among the Masai. Turns out they are even more intolerant of schizophrenics than we are.

SmashTheState's avatar

@gorillapaws I don’t remember the name of it, but a lot of what I know about the study of schizophrenia comes from a fascinating book I read a number of years ago by a psychiatrist who had worked with schizophrenics in a clinical setting for 40 years. I’ve since read similar accounts from other sources about totally untreated schizophrenics being highly functional, but it was this book which originally made me aware that it’s our treatment of schizophrenia which causes it to become malignant.

@LostInParadise According to sociologist Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind theory of human consciousness, schizophrenia is an atavism; everyone was “schizophrenic” prior to the rise of modern consciousness about 4000 years ago. In point of fact, there is no rationale for even the creation of a condition called “schizophrenia” except that a number of traits regarded as undesirable in our culture seem to be comorbid. You may not be aware of this, but the DSM is not universally accepted or used in all cultures, and in fact the DSM itself (and in particular the DSM casebooks) goes to some trouble to explain that it is specific to this culture. Many of the perfectly normal and ordinary everyday experiences of other cultures are regarded as pathological in our own simply because they make 9–5 cookie cutter capitalist existence inconvenient or problematic. The example I remember most specifically from the DSM 4 casebook is the custom of Latin Americans to encounter recently deceased loved ones after their deaths; in our culture it would be regarded as delusional and possibly psychotic, while not having such an experience would be regarded as unhealthy and pathological in theirs.

This prejudice against schizophrenic thinking seems to be at least partly the result of attitudes of unrecognized cultural supremacy.

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