Medical Disorders: The Social Component
July 9, 2013 Kristance Harlow
“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” [Jiddu Krisnamurti]
Have you ever gone to the doctors having already self-diagnosed yourself? Do you ever find yourself suggesting which medication to go on to your doctor? Maybe you are very aware of your body and take control of your own healthcare, which I hope is the case. Or maybe you saw a commercial on TV and it made you think that you too suffer from the ailment advertised and could benefit from the cure offered. I covered this in a previous post on how pharmaceutical companies sell diseases. This time the focus is on mental disorders and the theory that “all mental disorders, even those with biological roots, have a social component” (Carl Elliot) and how cures are prescribed even without knowing the cause.
Mental State & Physical Symptoms
The prevalence of different mental illnesses increase and decrease over time, such as increased rates of adolescent behavioral problems. The number of young people who suffer from depression has increased by almost 100% in the last 20 years. Depression and anxiety vary in their rates of occurrence in different parts of the world and always during different seasons. When you look at those trends it’s hard not to see a connection between mental disorders and the social environment that surround them.
Unfortunately, what is lacking in a lot of treatment plans in a holistic approach to mental health, connecting the mind and body. We already know that the mind-body connection is a driving force in your health, strong emotions elicit physical responses. Negative emotional states can cause problems ranging from acne to ulcers. Yet, patients are being first diagnosed by physicians who then suggest treatment, but that treatment is based on what the physician believes the patient is suffering from, and usually stays within the confines of the “medical model” (Tamara McClintock Greenberg).
Unknown Causes & Prescribed Treatments
Why is it that such rigorous guidelines surround the work of scientists in the lab but not doctors in the field? After all, we often accept a doctor’s diagnoses of disease more easily than we accept a scientific theory. Elliot points out that a lot of mental disorders share common ground and have support from medical professionals “whose careers or reputations depend on the existence of the disorder and who insist that the condition is real.” There is also a lack of independent lab research to back up the diagnosis, as well as a lack of independent testing and imaging available to aid in and confirm diagnosis. One of the most interesting components that these disorders share, according to Elliot, is that “there is often (but not always) a treatment for the condition even in the absence of knowledge about its cause and mechanism.” By treatment in this case we are talking about a treatment that follows the “medical model.”
A specific mental illness that has a specific medical model standpoint for ‘cure’ is Body Integrity Identity Disorder, which is a rare condition in which sufferers want to be amputees. These are people who at some point in their lives decide that they need amputation on what is considered to be, from a biomedical standpoint, a perfectly healthy limb. This decision usually appears to be definite and some insist that the only cure is amputation. Yet it seems to ignore the increasing numbers of people who want this procedure, what is causing the increase why is the proposed therapy to amputate? How do we decide between intrusive cures and holistic ones? Particularly when a cure is offered before the mechanism and cause is known.
This the point at which essential critical questioning must begin. If there is no knowledge of the mechanism and cause of a disorder how can it be treated? One example that comes to mind is prescription drugs for Restless Leg Syndrome, which I’ve already covered briefly, a supposed disorder that causes unpleasant sensation in the legs ranging from irritating to painful. It is characterized as a neurological disorder, yet very little information exists on the cause and mechanism of the issue. Some articles say that it is a sensation that makes you want to get up and walk around and when you do so the unpleasant sensation goes away. However, even with the lack of information and a non-intrusive way to resolve the problem (walk around) drugs are prescribed to treat the disorder.
Heal From the Source
The only way to determine the best way to handle such disorders is to have more research done and to take holistic healing approaches more seriously to see how to solve problems without pouring money into pills and procedures. Whether a disease or a mental illness is ‘real’ or socially constructed (and whether there is a difference at all) matters because if we can see how our society plays a role in creating disease, we can heal from the source instead of chasing the problem and treating people after they are already suffering.
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