It’s been over seven long months since the last time I just dropped in here to try to explain my absence from my own blog. In a word, depression.
I must preface the following remarks in this paragraph by saying that I regard psychiatry as a pseudoscience. I regard psychiatrists in general with contempt. Nonetheless, depression is classified as a psychiatric illness. I suffer from it myself (see link above). Regardless of the true nature of the beast, it truly is a beast. It is a life-threatening condition. Up to 10% of people who are diagnosed with clinical depression (aka major depressive disorder) take their own lives, sooner or later. Over 50% of all people who die by suicide suffer from clinical depression. In fact, 90% of all people who die by suicide suffer from depression, alcoholism, or some other diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their deaths. Suicide claims more lives than war, murder, and natural disasters combined.
Of course, all of the above has just been brought home to me yet again after I read yesterday’s blog post by my co-blogger Tim on the tragic death of his friend Bruce Davies. May he rest in peace.
I’d now like to turn to something more positive.
The whole truth is that my prolonged break from blogging has been due to more than just my mental malaise. Several other factors have also contributed to the decline in my blogging output over the last couple of years. And one of them is that over the past year and a bit I’ve been spending rather too much of my spare time learning to play the bass guitar! It’s become my obsession. In fact, I’ve gotten good enough at it that I’m now in a punk rock three-piece called Headcase. I’m on bass, Bill the drummer’s on drums, and Simon’s on guitar and vocals.
Sure, so far we’ve had only one actual band practice, but it’s early days yet. We’re going to attempt a few covers to begin with, starting with a song called Submission by the Sex Pistols, and then we’ll take it from there. Watch this space.
But as well as becoming a rock star in my spare time I really want to get back into blogging on a regular basis. I’ve missed it. I’m out of practice. And I have writer’s block. So I thought I’d warm up with an album review. And a controversial opinion, viz., that The Endless River is Pink Floyd’s best album since Wish You Were Here.
But it’s been a hell of a day, it’s getting late, so my review will have to wait. There are only so many spoons in a day.
Meanwhile, I’m very much still alive, still here, and, furthermore, I’m back. 🙂
I just dropped in to proffer an explanation of my absence from this blog for the past 18 months or so.
In a word, depression. I have been beset with mental health problems my entire adult life. I have at least four diagnosed DSM-5 disorders. Of these, depression is the worst. It is, quite literally, a life-threatening illness. Fortunately, amongst other things, my life is not mine to take. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Things took a turn for the worse about 18 months ago. Amongst other things, the full implications of having recently been belatedly diagnosed with adult ADHD were sinking in, winter was coming, and my usual coping strategies of injudicious drug use and abnegation of personal responsibility were failing me. But what really got me in a tailspin was when the state started bankruptcy proceedings against me, for alleged failure to pay taxes. I saw my GP about my predicament and he had no hesitation in giving me a medical certificate for WINZ. The upshot is that, since last autumn, I’ve been on the sickness benefit. Yes, that’s right. I’m a ward of the welfare state. So you can see what condition my condition is in.
But that’s enough about me, I don’t want to make this post all about my personal woes. In time-honoured fashion, I want to make it about this country’s political woes. This post will be about the government’s role in providing mental health services and, in particular, it’s role in NZ’s high rates of depression and suicide.
Straightaway, let’s get one thing straight. The government doesn’t actually care. The present National government doesn’t even want to know. Why else would it re-brand what was formerly the sickness benefit as “job seeker support”? A sickness beneficiary already has a job, and they know it! Their job is to get well. Well enough to seek, find, and then hold down a permanent paid position. All of which is easier said than done for the chronically mentally ill. Some of whom should, and do, end up on the invalid’s benefit.
The government doesn’t actually care. Certainly, the neoliberal government we’ve had in this country since 1984 doesn’t give a damn. To begin with, take the fact that the suicide rate for New Zealand males aged 15-19 doubled in the course of three years from 16 per 100,000 in 1985 to 32 per 100,000 in 1988. While trustworthy statistics aren’t easy to find, it would appear that this alarming increase in NZ’s youth suicide rate has held up. I see no reason to dispute the claim that NZ now has the highest rate of teen suicide in the developed world.
Former Children’s Commissioner Ian Hassall makes a couple of especially pertinent points (notwithstanding his dubious analogy to climate change).
The critical fact is that New Zealand has the highest rate of youth suicide in the OECD. This excess of young people’s deaths in New Zealand when compared with other OECD countries must be a result of local factors.
The statistics show that whatever these factors were, they began to operate from 1985 to 1988. That was a time of social turmoil in New Zealand. The economic restructuring that was sweeping the world was imposed faster and deeper in New Zealand than elsewhere.
“No pain, no gain” was the catchphrase of Rogernomics. What it meant was that it was expected that the structural changes would be painful but they would be worth it in creating a more robust economy.
For young people, the changes were rapid and painful indeed. Suddenly, finding a job was not guaranteed and bright future prospects dimmed for many. A reduced welfare safety net meant that many were not sufficiently helped and inequality widened.
I don’t think that we can say for sure what aspect of neoliberalism is to blame, or even that we can definitively blame neoliberalism in the first place for the sustained rise in youth suicides. But it’s certainly a prime suspect.
As ever: what is to be done?
Officially New Zealand has focussed on mental health and mental health services as a means of dealing with the problem. Mental ill-health and lack of mental health services cannot explain the sudden doubling of youth suicide from 1985 to 1988.
Not surprisingly, then, this approach has failed. Mental ill-health undoubtedly has a part to play in many youth suicides, but there is no reason that this should be more of a problem in New Zealand than in other countries.
It is comforting to believe that young people will be safer if our mental health services are improved but it is largely a false hope. Saying so will, no doubt make me unpopular, but so be it.
So be it, and I agree.
Sadly, throwing more money at the problem isn’t going to help much, if at all. In fact, I submit that a big part of NZ’s current mental health crisis is down to excessive reliance on the state to fix the problem. A bigger part is due to state intervention in the first place. It is completely wrong, for example, that the state treats the simple administration of a proven cure for depression as a greater crime than rape or armed robbery, and instead busies itself funding a lolly scramble of often worse than useless placebos.
Whereas I don’t think more government money is going to fix the problem, I do think it’s downright criminal to cut funding to mental health services in a time of mental health crisis. And that’s what this National government has done. My point is that where the state has taken on responsibility for the provision of mental health services, it must honour that commitment in the meantime. Until such time as we can successfully devolve this responsibility to families, friends and support at the local community level. Faceless bureaucracy never made anyone happy.
At a time like this, it is utterly appalling that the government saw fit to cut funding to Lifeline, one of NZs biggest and long-established suicide counselling lines. And instead, allocate that funding to a “new, preferred supplier” called LaVey. All very well, perhaps, except for the six-month hiatus between Lifeline’s funding being cut and the new provider stepping in. Oh, and the fact that Bill English’s wife is on the board of LaVey! Nepotism doesn’t get much uglier. (LeVa, LaVey. Whatever.)
Wait just a moment! Take another look at take the load off. What on earth is that woman friend using to get her mate Dan out of his pit of depression? That’s right, it’s a hangman’s noose.
Sure, it’s supposed to be a lasso. But seriously, what sort of subliminal message are they sending to the suicidal? The people at the agency that created this plagiaristic monstrosity sure have a sick sense of humour. (It wouldn’t surprise me if they were the same outfit responsible for Colin Craig’s election campaign material last election.)
I’m glad that I also have a sick sense of humour and can appreciate it. I hope you do too. To all my depressed friends out there, I say, life is very much worth living, no matter if it seems like a sack of shit right now. Hang on in there!
￼No, Richard, your speculation is not a legitimate scientific theory, it is infantile hocus pocus, which is all I’ve come to expect of you.
Infantile hocus pocus because demons do not exist, neither do gods, fairies, Santa’s-little-helpers or harpies. You’ve never seen one, heard one, touched one, smelled one nor tasted one, neither can you provide an iota of rationale that there exists such a spirit in the universe.
What was called “demon possession” by religionists is mental illness. You’re giving a psychiatric condition a superstitious definition. You call that scientific?
You’re talking like a complete nut-case.
I speculate that what is now called “mental illness” by psychiatrists is actually demonic possession. My claim is this, that the demonic possession model of mental illness is more scientific than the psychiatric model of mental illness. Crazy talk? He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Two of the largest stakeholder groups in the treatment of mental illness are psychiatrists and psychologists. Psychiatrists are doctors with medical degrees who specialise in treating mental illness as opposed to physical illness. (Please excuse the dichotomy.) They get to prescribe powerful psychotropic drugs. Whereas, psychologists are trained in psychology. They know all about human behaviour, both adaptive and maladaptive. But they don’t get to prescribe, so they’ll give you psychotherapy instead of pills.
Let’s take a look at how these two groups characterise one mental illness in particular, viz., addiction.
In DSM-5, the DSM-IV criteria substance abuse and substance dependence have been combined into single substance use disorders specific to each substance of abuse within a new “addictions and related disorders” category. Each substance use disorder is divided into mild, moderate, and severe subtypes.
Psychology Today is a magazine published every two months in the United States. Its intent is to make psychology literature more accessible to the general public. It’s a reputable publication. Wikipedia notes
Owned and managed by the American Psychological Association from 1983 to 1987, the publication is currently endorsed by the National Board for Certified Counselors
Here‘s what Psychology Today has to say about addiction.
most addictive behavior is not related to either physical tolerance or exposure to cues. People compulsively use drugs, gamble, or shop nearly always in reaction to being emotionally stressed, whether or not they have a physical addiction. Since these psychologically based addictions are not based on drug or brain effects, they can account for why people frequently switch addictive actions from one drug to a completely different kind of drug, or even to a non-drug behavior. The focus of the addiction isn’t what matters; it’s the need to take action under certain kinds of stress. Treating this kind of addiction requires an understanding of how it works psychologically.
See the problem?
Suppose that I’m an addict. Now suppose that I make an appointment to see a psychiatrist. She’ll tell me that I have several specific mental disorders. Cannabis use disorder, alcohol use disorder, social media use disorder, etc. Next suppose that I make an appointment to see a psychologist. He’ll tell me that the focus of my behaviour isn’t what matters. It’s my need to take maladaptive action under certain kinds of stress that I need to address.
So do I have a mental disorder, several specific mental disorders, or no mental disorder at all? Health professionals can’t agree. There is no consensus. This ain’t climate science! But suppose I’m an addict. I’ll be going back to see the psychologist to help me get my life back on track, not the psychiatrist. (Although she could prescribe me some powerful psychotropic drugs … hmmm.)
The science isn’t settled, but the psychiatric model of mental illness isn’t even science at all. Not least because it gets diagnoses disastrously wrong. Not yet convinced? Well, there’s a much more devastating objection to the psychiatric model of mental illness and that is that the model does a poor job of capturing either clinical or biological realities. Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s bullshit. But if the psychiatric model of mental illness isn’t scientific at all, then the demonic possession model of mental illness is certainly no less scientific than the psychiatric model of mental illness. And to establish my claim that the demonic possession model is more scientific than the psychiatric model all I need to do is show that the demonic possession model is scientific. Well, at least just a little bit sciency. So here goes.
Check your premises, as the devil woman said. Here are two of my background assumptions. (If you don’t like the first one, you can dispense with it later.)
Materialism about the mind. That’s my first background assumption. More specifically, I assume that the human mind is no more and no less than a suite of software running on wetware known colloquially as “brains”. We’re made out of meat. Considered by some to be an axiom of the modern naturalist worldview. Not too controversial. Unless you’re a dualist.
Self-ownership. Self-ownership of body and mind. That’s my second background assumption. Considered by many to be a libertarian axiom. Not too shabby. Not too controversial.
But ownership is right of possession. Possession?
Can you possess yourself? Of course you can. (Vacant possession is for zombies!) Can you possess your mind? Of course you can, you’d be pretty vacant otherwise, right? But wait! You are your mind. How can a suite of software possess itself? It can, and it must, since self-ownership is worthless if self-possession is incoherent. So how and in what sense does the suite of software that is you possess you? I submit that the suite of software that is you possesses your brain (the wetware you run on) merely by dint of running on it. By extension, the suite of software that is you possesses your body (the biomechanical structure that your wetware is directly wired into) by directly controlling it.
That’s when an autonomous suite of malicious software that is not you runs on your wetware alongside the suite of software that is you. Consuming some or all of your mental resources and taking control of some or all of your behaviour.
But how do demons originate? Where do they come from? And how do they get to install themselves? How do they get to take up residence in people’s minds? The short answer is self-deception.
The long answer isn’t much longer. Not right now. The demonic possession theory of mental illness is something I’m still working on. But here are some brief thoughts. Self-deception will occur in response to psychological trauma. We dull the pain. We suppress memories. We partition our own minds. Simple cognitive dissonance will cause us to wall off uncomfortable thought processes, and confirmation bias and other cognitive biases cement the bricks. Humans are adept at self-deception. We like to hide from the truth. We lie to ourselves and we believe our own bullshit. And we hide from the fact that we believe our own bullshit. Out of sight, out of mind. But there’s only so much of us that can be hidden away before a dangerous threshold is reached and the occult cognition reaches a critical mass, the reviled software modules start talking to each other and take on life as autonomous inner demons.
Our inner demons are spirits in prisons of our own making. Behind the prison walls they are perpetually face to face with all the horrors that we desperately do not want to see and can no longer see due to our own dread and duplicity. No wonder they seem tormented! Because they are. I surmise that in some cases our inner demons will even spawn their own inner demons, to hide from themselves as we hide from them. But here’s an interesting thing. Some demons, face to face with the truth from which we hide, will try to get the word out. To do that, they have to take control of speech, but you don’t want to hear the unadorned brutal truth about yourself, do you? But you won’t mind hearing it at all if your inner demon persuades you that what you’re about to hear isn’t an entirely accurate but altogether unflattering description of yourself but a damning indictment of someone else instead, will you? Welcome to Capill syndrome, aka projection, a sure diagnostic criterion of demonic possession.
In the story of the Gadarene Swine, when Jesus ordered the demons out of the demon-possessed man, they relocated to a nearby herd of pigs. Then promptly self-destructed. Fast forward two millennia, and instead of suicidal swine we have supermarket trolleys with minds of their own.
A friend gave me this excellent DEMOTIVATOR® from Despair.com several Christmases ago. And, recently, I finally got a round tuit. I put the damn thing up on the wall of my home office!
The poster represents an ever timely life lesson.
Perhaps life’s greatest lesson is that life itself is a lesson. That was my ex-wife’s sort of New Age spiritual viewpoint, in a nutshell, anyway. She had a firm intuition that we are each thrown into this mortal sphere of existence for a reason or reasons—to learn our spiritual life lesson(s). Of course, being a committed atheist and moral nihilist at the time, I mocked the idea. It’s only now, a repentant worldview and a decade of divorce later, that I’m wondering if she was right, after all. (And kicking myself for not asking the obvious question at the time. If life is a lesson, who sets the curriculum?)
A test of your Moral character and conviction.
The decisions you make throughout your life are all being observed and recorded.
One day you will be asked to give account.
God as teacher and/or God as experimenter? I don’t think that Tim’s suggesting that life on Earth is, quite literally, an experiment. So I will! (A misbegotten experiment, perhaps? No, I’ll leave it to a detractor to suggest that. Also, I’ll leave it to the apologists for God’s supposed omniscience to explain this.)
How did you do? If life’s a classroom and every day’s a school day, did you study hard? Or did you just fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way? If life’s a Stanley Milgram experiment, did you go with the Word or go with the crowd?
One day you will be asked to give account. If life’s a lab running a Stanley Milgram experiment, you will be judged on how you used your God-given faculty of free will. Did you make the right decisions, and evince moral character and conviction? (The decisions you make throughout your life are all being observed and recorded.) Whereas, if life’s a classroom, you will be judged on how you used your God-given learning ability. Were you a willing, conscientious, hard-working student of life? Did you learn and practise the right things? (Everything you learn and practise goes down on your academic record.)
Classroom or lab? Are we God’s students, or are we his experimental test subjects? I suggest that life’s more lesson than lab, for the simple reason that we do not have a faculty of so-called free will, God-given or otherwise. The concept itself is a nonsense. What we do have is the God-given ability to learn and to change our behaviour. We also have the curriculum and the learning objectives. You’ll find it all in the prescribed text.
(Is Christianity complicated? Please don’t protest that God didn’t make it clear what are the right things to learn and practise. He did. The Bible contains massive redundancy. You know, like how the Ten Commandments are repeated in Deuteronomy, just in case you missed them in Exodus.)
Now, back to the DEMOTIVATOR® at the top.
(Did you see what Despair.com did there with the wee ®? They threatened to send their statist cronies around to your place to sort you out good and hard should you ever decide to go into business selling your own DEMOTIVATOR posters!)
the children who were best able to delay gratification subsequently did better in school and had fewer behavioral problems than the children who could only resist eating the cookie for a few minutes—and, further, ended up on average with SAT scores that were 210 points higher. As adults, the high-delay children completed college at higher rates than the other children and then went on to earn higher incomes. In contrast, the children who had the most trouble delaying gratification had higher rates of incarceration as adults and were more likely to struggle with drug and alcohol addiction.
How to learn delayed gratification?
Rather than resist the urge to eat the cookie, these children distracted themselves from the urge itself. They played with toys in the room, sang songs to themselves, and looked everywhere but at the cookie. In short, they did everything they could to put the cookie out of their minds.
So, learning to delay gratification is not at all the same thing as learning to resist temptation. The results even suggest that any direct attempt to resist the urge to eat the cookie is worse than futile, it’s counter-productive. And, note, we’re talking about a non-starving child and a cookie. We’re not talking about a methamphetamine addict and a bag of P. And we’re certainly not talking about being offered all that you could ever want in the whole world and having it right now.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (NIV)
Nope. Staring down temptation and simply commanding it to go away is way too hardcore for mere images of God! We can but pray, “Lead us not into temptation” in the first place. Give us this day our daily distraction!
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (NIV)
The poster represents an ever timely life lesson. Delay gratification, do some work, and get your shit sorted. (Thanks for the round tuit.)
My unusual suggestion was not well received. One of the usual suspects had this to say.
Richard, your speculation is not a legitimate scientific theory … because demons do not exist, neither do gods, fairies, Santa’s-little-helpers or harpies. You’ve never seen one, heard one, touched one, smelled one nor tasted one, neither can you provide an iota of rationale that there exists such a spirit in the universe.
What was called “demon possession” by religionists is mental illness. You’re giving a psychiatric condition a superstitious definition. You call that scientific?
The problem with the DSM-IV, our current shared diagnostic language, is that a large and growing body of evidence demonstrates that it does a poor job of capturing either clinical [or] biological realities. In the clinic, the limitations of the current DSM-IV approach can be illustrated in three salient areas: (1) the problem of comorbidity, (2) the widespread need for “not otherwise specific (NOS)” diagnoses, and (3) the arbitrariness of diagnostic thresholds.
Both in clinical practice and in large epidemiological studies, it is highly likely that any patient who receives a single DSM-IV diagnosis will, in addition, qualify for others, and the patient’s diagnostic mixture may shift over time. There is a high frequency of comorbidity—for example, many patients are diagnosed with multiple DSM-IV anxiety disorders and with DSM-IV dysthymia (chronic mild depression), major depression, or both. Many patients with an autism–related diagnosis are also diagnosed with, obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The frequency with which patients receive multiple diagnoses far outstrips what would be predicted if co-occurrence were happening simply by chance. Researchers who have made careful studies of comorbidity, such as Robert Krueger at the University of Minnesota, have found that co-occurring diagnoses tend to form stable clusters across patient populations, suggesting to some that the DSM system has drawn many unnatural boundaries within broader psychopathological states.
If the concept of mental illness does “a poor job of capturing either clinical [or] biological realities” then how, exactly, is it an advance over the concept of demonic possession?
Two thousand years ago the Gospel authors were well aware of the problem of comorbidity and, in fact, mention it no less than twice.
In the introduction to the Parable of the Sower in the Gospel of Luke we read
Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out (NIV)
and in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke we read (variations of) the story of the Gadarene Swine. It’s one of my favourites.
They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. (NIV)
A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. (NIV)
We all have demons and we often refer to them in animistic terms.
Me, I’m intimately familiar with the Black Dog. Depression’s a bitch, for sure. Thank God, she’s been sent packing and I haven’t seen her in a while. But my mind’s still holiday home to a menagerie of monkeys.
Psychiatric counselling and psychiatric drugs can and do help those afflicted by so-called mental illnesses … somewhat. So I’m not knocking psychiatrists and psychiatry … much.
So, what about exorcism? I’ll leave that to another psychotic episode.
I’m almost surprised that the human condition didn’t make it into the APA’s recently released DSM-5. The DSM-5 is the is the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The APA is the American Psychiatric Association and the vanguard in the medical profession’s quest to medicalise all aspects of everyday life. If you think I’m being cynical, just read the DSM-5. You’re in it. And so are all your friends. We’re all in it together. The human condition.
What’s that you say? You read the DSM-5 cover to cover and you’re not in it? Sounds diagnostic to me! Clearly, you’re in denial. Denial’s symptomatic of half the mental disorders in the book! So I’m afraid you’re only fooling yourself. But never fear, the APA is here! Here to help you trade denial for acceptance and cold comfort for change. Soon everything will be all right. The struggle will be finished. You’ll win victory over yourself and love the APA.
Are we feeling comfortably numb yet?
I’ve always felt trapped by the human condition. Even to the point of contemplating knocking on the wrong door. But, thank God, I’ve always thought outside the box I’m stuck in, too. And here’s today’s Q&A. What to do about the human condition? There is NO dilemma. Denial or acceptance? A pox on both their houses! There is a third way. Transcendence. Not as in some mystical cop-out. As in break out of the box and set yourself free!
I’ve always wanted to be more God-like.
Of course, I haven’t always been a Christian but, one way or another, I’ve always been a transhumanist. Christianity is a doctrine of transcendence and the recommended (and only) path. But even if you don’t agree—and I know many of you are averse to “religion”—would you please at least make sure you’re signed up to some other transhumanism? Join me. Otherwise, who let you out? Back in your box!