This essay is to raise the question "Is there such a thing as mental illness?? Since the belief of mental illness is widely used, inquiry into the ways in which this term is employed would seem to be especially indicated. Thomas Szasz believes mental illness does not exist (Szasz, 1961) whereas the American Psychiatric Association believes it is an illness and treats it as such (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
The idea of mental illness stems its main support from such phenomena as syphilis of the brain or delirious conditions, for instance, in which persons are known to exhibit various disorders of thinking and behavior. However, these are diseases of the brain, not of the mind. The assumption is made that some neurological defect, perhaps a very subtle one, will ultimately be found for all the disorders of thinking and behavior (Caplan, 1995). The mind and the brain are not the same. The brain is a biological organ that can be located physically within the body. The mind is a philosophical concept used to identify the merging of memory, thoughts, and ideas that form the basis of a given individual's personality.
Throughout history people have been concerned about the nature of mental disorder. There have been many different theories about the cause and effective treatment of people whom we would now describe as suffering from mental illness. At first glance it seems as though people just keep on going round and round in circles without ever getting any nearer to solving the problems which can lead so many of us to mental despair and social isolation. It is true that people still disagree about the exact cause of mental disorders or even if people who think differently should be called ?ill? at all (Caplan, 1995).
The world has not always used medical language to describe the behavior we now label as mental illness or mental disorder. Descriptions were sometimes used in quite different terms, such as possession. What we now call mental illness was not always treated as a medical problem. Some psychiatrists view that the changes in our description and treatment of mental illness are a result of our increasing knowledge and greater concepts. On this view, they have conquered former ignorance and now know that mental illness exists even though there is a further research being done on the causes and treatment of mental illness (Zubin, J. & Spring, B. (1977). However, there are some thinkers who have challenged this view. Some have argued that the reality of mental illness is not an absolute fact (Szasz, 1961). In my opinion, Szasz's position on this matter has not gained any certainty. The advancement of neuroscience and the increasing ability to affect emotions, thought, and behavior through medication, psychiatry has, if anything, gained in scientific credibility since Szasz?s first proposed his critique. Few of Szasz's supporters have been willing to take as extreme position as him. Critics of psychiatry have been more concentrated on mental illnesses such as alcoholism, psychopathy, and personality disorders, rather than the whole category of mental illness (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). There is still intense debate over the reality of such mental disorders. This debate has turned more on factual issues than the more philosophical claims of Thomas Szasz. Mental illnesses are thus regarded as basically no different as all other diseases of the body. The only difference between mental and bodily diseases is the area of the body which they affect. Mental diseases affect the brain and illustrate themselves by means of mental symptoms whereas bodily diseases affect other organs and illustrate themselves by means of symptoms referable to those parts of the body (Heffner, 1992).
According to Thomas Szasz (1961), disease must be found on the autopsy table and meet a pathological definition instead of being voted into existence by members of the American Psychiatric Association. A lot of people have felt exactly that way about schizophrenia, the profoundly debilitating psychotic disorder usually equated with insanity. The overwhelming majority of psychiatrists, however, have stuck to their guns and not given up on their rights to the illness. Psychotherapists emphasize the fact that feelings and emotions are not features of the individual, but rather responses of the person to particular situations in society (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
Szasz wrote: ?If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to you, you have schizophrenia. If the dead talk