ON MENTAL ILLNESS: A Shift in Accepted Thinking

Jack Bragen
Friday October 06, 2017 - 02:58:00 PM

Society has shifted as a whole, with the advent of continuous war and widespread electronic surveillance. In the past, thoughts that would have been considered "paranoid delusional" are now often passable as normal thinking--in fact, accurate.  

Additionally, paranoia has spread, to the extent that it is an epidemic. In modern times, a large proportion of wage-earning, responsible, affluent people have developed symptoms of paranoia--without anyone labeling them as mentally ill.  

So, it is almost as though the world has changed to conform to the version of reality that paranoid people have always had, which was once considered insane thinking.  

In modern times, the evaluation to determine a psychiatric disorder has probably changed, where it has to include much more than the presence of thoughts that were once considered bizarre and paranoid. The individual must be doing antisocial and/or threatening things as a result of their disorder, or, she or he must be "gravely disabled" due to the condition.  

When driving, if you think you are being followed, such a thought is no longer considered crazy. Half of the time, people probably are following you.  

If you have some paranoid thoughts but can still take care of your basic needs without creating the appearance that you are a threat or a nuisance, you may not necessarily need psychiatric treatment. Yet, would such treatment help you? Very possibly.  

It is usually preferable to be balanced, and not to go too far into questionable or bizarre thinking. (Some amount of different thinking is fine, as long as you can navigate your way back and don't become stuck.) 

If I use myself as an example: I cannot function in society in the absence of mental health treatment. Furthermore, it is doubtful that I could handle full-time employment, either on medication or off. While medicated, the psychiatric drugs, because they affect the central nervous system, are part of the disability. However, if off medication, I would be completely nonfunctional at anything due to the untreated psychiatric disorder.  

Because of the above, I could not run away from the psychiatrists, and go get a job out of state or out of the country. Remember the end of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in which the narrator escapes from the hospital? I could not pull that one off. (It has been more than thirty years since I've read that book, so I am going with the image at the end of the movie version, that starred Jack Nicholson, which might or might not be true to the book.)  

However, in today's culture, some amount of paranoia is probably appropriate. How well you can handle that thinking is important. Do you see yourself as essentially the same as most people? Such a view of oneself tends to be a sign of health. I don't view myself as "the same as others", however, I am also paranoid schizophrenic.  

A "normal" human mind will have a system of "checks and balances" that are designed to keep the mind fairly healthy.  

Most people absorb common beliefs from each other, from the mass media, and from other human sources. Few people arrive at their own conclusions about things. This serves as one of the mechanisms that keep most people mentally normal. Also, the human brain normally has mechanisms for regulating itself. One of these is the need for sleep. Another is the ability to feel pain, and there are more.  

When someone lives based on their own conclusions, and when, at the same time, their mechanisms for sleep, pain, hunger, and other grounding attributes, go haywire, that person will probably become mentally ill in some way.  

If a person is excessively isolated it can lead to psychosis. You can be isolated even when you are around other people--if you fail to bond with people, if you fail to joke around with people, and if other interactions are too limited.  

However, society has shifted. It is now normal to have a number of thoughts that in the past would have been deemed paranoid. The same mechanisms for "sanity" still work. However, certain types of thoughts have moved out of the category of delusional into the domain of normal.  

"Crazy persons" have a role in society. Society needs to sacrifice a few people to test the waters of new and different beliefs. The capacity to be "insane" is simply the capacity to be different from the group.  

If we lacked a few individuals who are individual, society would be stagnant, and it would be in jeopardy in other ways. We need to have someone present to declare: "The Emperor Has No Clothes." Or to disbelieve that if we sail our ship too far off the coast, we will fall off the edge.  


Jack Bragen is author of "Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia: A Self-Help Manual," "Schizophrenia: My 35-Year Battle," and other titles.