Is mental illness real as we now define it today? Identification as the mind certainly is and this is the actual problem that we are faced with that is only just being acknowledged in the western world.
Mental illness is at epidemic proportions in "developed" countries; with 1 in 4 people in the US having some sort of mental illness (this rate is always rising), and there are kids as young as 5 on antidepressants and other behavioral drugs, even pets are on these drugs too!
In the mean time, there are countries and cultures where mental illness is virtually unheard of.
The western world writes 170 million prescriptions for antidepressants per year and has a HUGE range of illnesses, whereas certain societies in Tibet and India don't even have words that can translate as anxiety, depression, bi-polar, etc.
Unfortunately none of these things are considered from what I've seen and instead patients are assumed to be broken, have some sort of chemical imbalance and need drugs - not to fix or cure them, but to "manage" it.
I think we should really question this system of people and corporations making billions of dollars off sick people, and whether this system is really working to benefit the majority.
This article is a good summary of this supposed chemical imbalance myth.
Read also "Depression: It's Not Your Serotonin".
Where to look for Answers?
These questions are answered though - not by psychological practitioners, but in eastern philosophy, spirituality and mysticism.
Our thoughts, feelings and emotions are a direct representation of the world we are brought up in. A fundamental Christian family will have a child that thinks lots of Christian thoughts. An American family that worships materialism will have a child that thinks many American, materialistic thoughts. A Syrian, Muslim family will have a child that thinks like a Syrian Muslim.
A child raised on a deserted island far away from any culture will probably think a lot about coconuts and the weather maybe. It's pretty simple when you look at it this way.
So when we raise a child in a materialistic world,
...is it any wonder that we're all pretty messed up?
Is it any wonder that people are full of anxiety, fear and feelings of unworthiness and helplessness?
Here is one (of SO many) examples of the way these eastern traditions could solve this problem. This is a great TED talk from the tradition Vedanta (similar to the final steps in Buddhism).
In saying all that though, this way of thinking is finally emerging in western psychology. Here's a great talk with 3 professors in neuroscience and psychology, speaking on this subject.
One of them even mentions,
And here's another neuroscientist - Sam Harris, speaking about the same thing that I believe will end up solving this massive worldwide problem:
…and another amazing talk by western psych Dr. Gabor Maté on mental illness and addiction:
Are Antidepressants & Drugs The Answer?
According to a few published papers, antidepressants do no more than a placebo anyway and not only that, but as stated in this paper, this information was actively kept hidden from the public and physicians by the FDA.
I wonder if money had anything to do with this decision? Antidepressants have also been shown in other studies to INCREASE rates of suicide, and cause all sorts of dangerous side effects.
Not to mention this great TED talk by Dr. Ben Goldacre, demonstrating how doctors don't even know what's in the majority of pills/drugs they are prescribing and that studies showing that these drugs don't work, just simply aren't published.
Patients are regularly told that their illness is for life, and the best they can do is manage it.
This in itself is so dangerous I believe and in fact is totally untrue. How could this not leave a person feeling totally helpless and disempowered?
The first 40 or so minutes of this Zeitgeist documentary is a whole bunch of researchers explaining that this is not true at all, and that gene expression (and therefore human behavior) is heavily dependant on the environment - the field of epigenetics.
So it's my belief that this addiction to thought and the associated emotions and feelings that most people have - some much worse than others - can be solved by transcending the lot.
Instead of associating with every single thought and emotion that arises, we identify as the awareness that sees all of this from a neutral and equanimous perspective - our true Self.
Instead of identifying with all the transitory phenomena that we can't control at all and is a product of our environment, we connect more and more with the witnessing presence via meditation so that we don't get caught up in all the thoughts and emotions that are inherently empty of a Self.
This witnessing presence has been called many things through the ages: consciousness, the Buddha Nature, Nirvana, Atman, God… and it is a place of peace, joy, happiness without reason and is who and what we truly are beyond the conditioning of the external world.
This is available to all and it's only a matter of time I feel before mental illness will be a thing of the past and will be seen as something we required as a collective to wake up to our true nature and evolve to the next step.