What is Mental Health Denial?

Introduction

Mental illness denial or mental disorder denial is a form of denialism in which a person denies the existence of mental disorders.

Both serious analysts, as well as pseudoscientific movements question the existence of certain disorders.

A minority of professional researchers see disorders such as depression from a sociocultural perspective and argue that the solution to it is fixing a dysfunction in the society not in the person’s brain.

Certain analysts argue this denialism is usually fuelled by narcissistic injury. Anti-psychiatry movements such as Scientology promote mental illness denial by having alternative practices to psychiatry.

Views

Views of Thomas Szasz

According to Thomas Szasz there is no such thing as mental illness. He views psychiatry as a mechanism for political oppression. Szasz wrote a book on the subject in 1961, which is called The Myth of Mental Illness. There are also “Szasz followers”, people who agree with ideas of Thomas Szasz.

Views of Elyn Saks

Probing patient’s denial may lead to better ways to help them overcome their denial and provide insight into other issues. Major reasons for denial are narcissistic injury and denialism. In denialism, a person tries to deny psychologically uncomfortable truth and tries to rationalise it. This urge for denialism is fuelled further by narcissistic injury. Narcissism gets injured when a person feels vulnerable (or weak or overwhelmed) for some reason like mental illness.

Denialism in India

Mental illness denial in Republic of India is a common problem. Many Indians view mental illnesses as, quote: “touchy-feely, new-age hogwash”, even though 1 in every 10 Indians have a mental health condition in India.

Athletes

Studies show that Overtrained (OT) athletes suffer from Major Depressive Disorder but many athletic trainers and psychologists deny this and as a result athletes are not getting proper medical treatment. Patients deny existence of depression and blame themselves for their inadequacies and try to overcome their inadequacies which can make the symptoms more severe. Their denial also acts as an obstacle for biopsychological approach towards OT.

TV Series

In the animated TV series South Park, in the episode titled City Sushi there is a scene where Butters Stotch is wondering whether Dr. William Janus is having an incident of his multiple personality disorder, to which Dr. William Janus replies: “Come on, you think multiple personality disorder is real? I’ve been using that to scam this town for seven years.”

3 thoughts on “What is Mental Health Denial?

  1. This is a really terrible post. Very poor arguments made. You don’t explain how mental health systems have been used as forms of political oppression (such as political dissidents in the Soviet Union). You also fail to talk about the fact that many DSM labels are created with input and financial backing from the pharmaceutical corporations. One prime example is Allen Francis lead editor of the DSM IV receiving money directly from Risperdal and expanding the parameters of bipolar, so that more people could be prescribed Risperdal. So YES if a label is created by a corporation that has a financial interest in getting me on as many drugs as possible, then I’m going to be skeptical that diagnostic label is credible. Terribly harmful and poorly research article you’ve written. You are not a mental health ally. A true mental health ally cares about these systemic issues.

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    1. 1. Denying that mental illness exists and using mental health as a form of political oppression are two different things.
      2. It is also interesting that you mention DSM-IV (published in 1994), but this was replaced by DSM 5 in May 2013 (to which over 300 individuals and organisations contributed). Although transparency alone cannot mitigate unintentional bias and the appearance of bias, which may impact scientific integrity and public trust.
      3. “nearly 70 percent of DSM-5 task force members reporting financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies — up from 57 percent for DSM-4.” ABC News (13 March 2012).
      4. Also from the same ABC News article: “The DSM-5 has also drawn criticism for introducing new diagnoses that some experts argue lack scientific evidence. Dr. Allen Frances, who chaired the revisions committee for DSM-4, said the new additions would “radically and recklessly” expand the boundaries of psychiatry.”
      5. There will always be mental health professionals with financial ties to drug companies (and those without) and, for some, they will continue to give the appearance, if not the reality, of developing diagnostic instruments/labels that are not objective and have no integrity.
      6. Does ‘financial relationship’ = ‘conflict of interest’? Maybe, but not necessarily.
      7. I do have to agree that both the ICD and DSM appear to be accreting labels with every new issue.
      8. Read this article on disclosure and conflict of interest from the National Library of Medicine.

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