The idea that mental anguish is an illness is dehumanizing and destroys the concept of what it means to be a person. The concept of “mental illness” creates a less-than-human creature who’s distressing feelings and behaviors are illegitimate. For the existentialist, loneliness, boredom, despair, and meaninglessness, are central to life. They are problems to be overcome, not diseases to be cured.
Existentialism is a philosophy that, “reacts to an apparently absurd or meaningless world by urging the individual to overcome alienation, oppression, and despair through freedom and self-creation in order to become a genuine person” 1. Viewing life through the existentialist lense, the concept of “mental illness” is a form of existential murder of personhood, the human spirit, and the soul. For the existentialist, mental anguish is part of life. Only by experiencing anxiety, depression, and alienation would one move to confront these existential problems through self-creation.
The existentialist embraces life. But more than that, he accepts responsibility for his life. Whether he makes poor choices and lives a poor life or chooses to live a genuine, flourishing life; what he does with his life is up to him.
To the existentialist, life is no picnic. He is thrust into an uncaring world; a world that is often hostile to his very existence. In order to live a flourishing life, he must wrestle with the fundamental problems in life: creating meaning, his own finite existence, and overcoming loneliness and boredom. He can choose to live like the herd and simply go through the motions, or he can choose to live life on his own terms.
For the existentialist feelings of despair, alienation, and meaningless are fundamental to human existence. Alleviating such feelings are what motivates a person to create meaning for oneself. It as no surprise that those who fail to find answers to life’s existential questions find themselves in despair. For the existentialist, mental anguish is an adaptive response to failing to devise answers to life’s problems.
People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates. – Thomas Szasz
The Dehumanizing Concept of Mental Illness
The word “mental illness” is an attempt to portray unwanted emotions and behaviors as if they are illnesses that require medical treatment. As Thomas Szasz pointed out, the mind is an immaterial concept – it cannot be diseased.
Talking about a sick mind does not make any sense. It is a categorical mistake to call a mind sick. Mental illness is a metaphor. A mind can only be sick in the same sense that a joke or an economy can be sick. Looking for a medical cure for a sick joke doesn’t make any sense. You cannot “cure” a mind, as you cannot cure a joke. A joke is sick because the person hearing the joke has values which he judges the joke by. A mind can only be sick in the sense that an outsider has values by which he judges another’s thoughts, feelings or behaviors as unusual, distressing or deviant.
Those who promote the idea of mental illness are guilty of existential murder. They destroy the concept of personhood, creating a zombie-like creature – a slab of meat, bones, and brains that simply follow biochemical signals. The promoters of mental illness destroy the concept of personhood, the human spirit, the soul, free will, personal responsibility, and self-determination.
The idea of mental illness creeps into every facet of modern day life. Instead of a person who is intensely interested in a single topic, we have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Rather than a person who cannot sit still and has lots of energy, we have ADHD. A man who likes to have too much sex is a Sex Addict. A woman who has too little sex has Arousal Disorder. A person sad about his life circumstances has “clinical depression”. Nicotinism, caffeinism, alcoholism are all diseases which cause a person to consume too much of something that he enjoys. The list is apparently endless. Promoters of mental illness will not stop until all of human behavior is classified as a disease. A disease which can be cured with the help of the promoters of mental illness, of course.
A Person Is Not a Machine
A Person is not an elaborate machine. A person has reasons for his thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. A person makes choices. We feel depressed, anxious, and lonely, and we have reasons for feeling that way. To suggest otherwise to turn the concept of a person on its head. If we are anxious it is usually because we are overemphasizing the evaluation of others. If we are depressed it is often because we are making demands on oneself, the world, or life itself that cannot be attained.
We alone are responsible for the life we chose to live. We are responsible for the judgments we pass on life and ourselves, and the seriousness with which we accept the judgments of others. Life may be difficult, but it is not a disease to be cured, it is a task we are faced with. Life presents us with problems to be overcome.
The most pressing problems are existential problems, not mental diseases. The core of life’s problems we must come to grips with are: Our finite existence, loneliness, boredom, and creating meaning in an absurd universe.
What do you think? Is mental anguish a disease or a result of existential problems inherent to our existence? Let me know in the comments below.