Burngreave Messenger

Issue 24 August 2002





Mental illness - Treating the causes?
by Matloub Husayn Ali Khan

Matloub Husayn Ali Khan argues that the views of some psychiatrists lead to a cycle of dependency and re-admission.

Psychiatry as a profession deals with people who are ‘ill’ and many psychiatrists argue that we can identify a certain type of mental illness and hence attach a diagnosis to it. They argue that this specific (physical) illness is the basis for an individual’s mental distress and as it is biological should be treated in biological manner. My experience as a mental health service user, survivor and provider leads me to question this view.

Mental ‘illness’ can strike at any time but there some differences between men, women, and people from different classes and ethnicity. Many people who are diagnosed with a mental illness have had some sort of high stress trigger like bereavement, divorce, or redundancy. My own experience is that in the initial stages of the ‘illness’ the medication may exacerbate another aspect of the ‘illness’ and the side-effects of tablets can even lead to self-harm.

Unfortunately, for those clients who have little support from family or friends it is almost impossible to get help outside the psychiatric institutions. Many clients are then trapped in the system by continually taking medication which have serious and dangerous side-effects for many years after the initial problem. Many of the service users I have met tell the same familiar story: taking tablets for depression but they stay depressed. Many feel that they will never recover from their ‘illness’.

If people do survive / recover or ‘feel better’ what help they have may be stopped. After long drawn-out checks on their health and suitability to carry out work, benefits may be stopped while they are still not ready to go back to their old job. They may be forced to take on a less stressful job, this often means unsuitable work. These financial and work stresses can cause relapses and return to the hospital, getting further trapped in the system.

If the illness is a physical one then why don’t the psychiatric profession treat the CAUSES of the illness, rather the symptom? The physical causes of mental illness are unproven. The emotional causes, in the form of stress factors, are clear. Many psychiatrists have become experts in treating the symptoms but not on the real state of the mind.

In today’s world we all want to have emotional stability and security; to be valued; respected; de-stigmatised and recognised by society and to feel positive about life. An admission to hospital makes many client’s feelings and esteem more negative rather than positive unless they get good support right at the outset of their stay.

There are alternatives to medication and admission and recent approaches of liaison and trans-cultural psychiatry have helped to empower individuals to be free of illness without tablets but the type of help and support that service users and workers in the Voluntary Sector can provide is very difficult to obtain and demand has out-stripped supply.