Generally speaking, “mental illness” is a social artifact. What is adaptive or maladaptive “mentally” is based on the basic assumptions of a society. So, this extends far beyond any worldview we’d like to describe as, or locate as, “heathen”, and speaks to the heart of any society.
In a lot of primal societies, things we might categorize as “mental illness” are seen as signs of favor from the Unseen world, and positions exist within the society for the “touched” person to act as a ceremonial operative or sorcerer or seer of some kind. It is the height of our western presumptuousness to assume that the highest value of “accuracy” for categorizing things is found in what we decide is “crazy”- I assure you that many of our schizophrenic-labeled people would appear in every way quite different if they appeared to you in the context of say, Ancient Mayan society or Ancient Siberian societies.
We forget- daily- that our materialistic assumptions, that our empiricist assumptions, that our “progress oriented” narrative, that our “Greek city” based ideal for a settlement and the politics therein, is not the only way humans have ever been, NOR is it necessarily the best way. A lot of madness emerges (some would say all madness, just about) from the endless variety of “ways of being human”, when it clashes with the very restrictive acceptable norms of our modern civilised world.
Either way, to go back to my original statement, “mental illness” requires a defining society to exist. I mean this as literally as it sounds. There is no “illness” in the brain that exists like a cold or a flu is said to exist. To say that someone is mentally ill means so many things, it might as well be a meaningless statement. “Mental Illness” is as general a term as the word “Sports”. There is a wide variety of sports- to use an example I once heard- Kickboxing and Football are both sports, but so is badminton. You can see the vast difference between those, on every level, and yet, all three are sports.
The real issue is that we have no room in our society for people who behave in certain ways, and to a lesser extent, who think in certain ways. We do not detect mental illness with a special scope or tool; it is diagnosed 100% by observing behavior or communicating. Medical models have been suggested- and fought very hard for- the drug companies and their materialist/medical model drone pyschiatrists badly want us all to believe that “brain chemistry imbalances” cause nearly all mental illness, but they have produced no evidence to this claim- not even remotely- and serious studies done have almost consistently shown that brain chemistry has little or nothing to do with things.
Only “schizophrenia”- to use another general, meaningless term- has shown any possible existence as a genetic issue. For all the rest, even the oft-repeated insistence that “bipolar disorder” or “depression” is “most certainly” passed down through generations (“my mom and grandma had it!”, people love to say) is flawed. All we’re doing is categorizing certain behaviors that are otherwise normal in other instances. The super-energy and then super-collapses of the bipolar-labeled person again are certainly real- but illness? I hesitate to call it that, even if it greatly inconveniences them, or causes them interpersonal strife. It’s another way of being human to me.
Depression is hopelessly subjective. There is no scientifically objective standard for what constitutes “too much” sadness or lack of energy in a person’s life, and no one, when asked, ever thinks that they don’t have some kind of medical problem. Every person who feels sad a lot wants to believe that they must have a messed up brain, to get the relief that drugs may bring- and to get the relief of thinking that they have a medical condition, and that brilliant doctors can now help them. But the most groundbreaking study published a few years back on the effectiveness of antidepressants shot a hole in that boat, too- they have shown, conclusively, to be no more effective than placebos.
But the feeling of being “treated” for an illness, and the psychological impact of taking medication and seeing a therapist, still helps people, so the industry survives, even if “mental illness” is not the clear-cut thing they want everyone to think it is. Not at all. I speak from working around it every day, and watching people slowly wake up to this fact.
Now, apart from “mental illness”- which is a modern western scientific conquest and institution- we have “madness”- a totally different term. Madness might be considered an acute and often uncontrolled glimpse beyond the limitations set by any social grouping, which renders a person unable to go back to a comfortable life in the midst of the group. Some say our schizophrenics may be closer to this category, and in the case of some of Jung’s patients, I think this well may be the case. But it’s not the case for all. Some schizophrenia appears to be brain damage of some kind, from some source.
Madness was simultaneously dangerous and simultaneously sought-after by the Heathen. The crazy seer-woman is sought after for her madness, which gave her glimpses of the hidden reality or the divine world. The wild-eyed shaman in the woods has the same power/curse, at times. In madness, we are ordinarily dealing with the outcome of a powerful subjective experience, a spontaneous initiation into the sorcerous vocation, which can be brought about by human ritual work or activity, or even by extreme illness or trauma that brings a person to the edge of life. It’s always caused by “seeing too much” or “seeing too far” beyond the edge of what the society considers normal or acceptable, in some way.
So, Madness is always a possibility in “hedge crossing”, because the “hedge” has many layers of meaning. “Hedge” always refers to (among other things) the boundaries of what is sane or acceptable, according to a certain social group or family or what have you. For a mormon or a muslim to have a drink of alcohol (for instance) is a hedge crossing of types, though a very minor one- though it can cause some extreme transformations in that person.
by Profane Tragedy