Part II: Is There Any Such Thing as “Mental Illness?”

by | May 2, 2015 | Healthcare, Reflection

Does “mental illness” exist? That is the question to which I have already answered “No.”

Because what is a “mind”  you can treat it? What is “mental” that can be subject to an “illness”?

The philosophical materialist (look it up) contends that the mind is nothing more or less than the “brain”. Everyone knows what that is, that wrinkly glob of biochemical, electrical, neurotransmitter-laden nerve tissue stuff that dwells between our ears and behind our forehead.


Sure, we’ve seen the PET scans and other physical evidence demonstrating distinct regions of the “brain”. We’ve seen these different areas lighting up when various cognitive or emotional processes are activated in test volunteers (mathematical, linguistic, aggressive, romantic, artistic). But the “mind” is much more than that.

I grant you that science has proven that depression, anxiety, and related disorders are associated with “lower than normal” levels of a specific neurotransmitter  (a neurotransmitter is a chemical that enables one neuron or nerve cell to “talk” to another nerve cell) called serotonin. I affectionately call serotonin the “don’t worry, be happy” neurotransmitter. We first began prescribing Prozac thirty or so years ago along with a plethora of other “SSRI’s” to help this process along and to help patients with depression and anxiety. There are a host of other drugs that have come out over the years and the list is growing annually.

Norepinephrine. I call this one the “get-‘er-done” neurotransmitter (thank you, Larry the Cable Guy). The technical word for this property of the mind is “executive function”…, that is, the making of decisions and organizing of actions. There are drugs that boost this neurotransmitter also.

Drugs that boost both wonder chemicals are also prescribed. I’ll spare you the list.

Here’s another one. Dopamine. It’s what I call the “I feel goooood, neurotransmitter.” (By the way, it’s the one that COCAINE causes to be released in large amounts in the brain, albeit with decreasing efficacy over a period of continued use, thus leading to addiction.).

And haven’t we all heard about “endorphins”, those natural opiates? They are a kind of self-generated morphine that is produced when we do exciting activities, or especially when we exercise. It’s the neurotransmitter chemical accompaniment of the “runners high”. Try this one, you’ll like it.

Oh, and there are the pheromones. These are the sexy ones. A few molecules of these from a hot female moth will attract the males from miles away. Probably works with humans, too. (Note the perfume adds in magazines today that tout the use of these chemicals in their products.)

Who knows? Pheromones may be the reason we have always used the term (when two people have a strong attraction to one another), “They have ‘good chemistry'” .

But I digress.

What I’m trying to say about “the mind” is that the strict “naturalist” (look that up, too) is correct in saying that every thought we think, emotion we feel, motivation we experience, is accompanied by a an electro-chemical, neurological, biophysical phenomenon somewhere in the physical “brain”… (and elsewhere in the body, I might add… I refer you to “chill bumps” as proof).

But we cannot by this conclude that the mind is just a physical phenomenon. There is so much more… But what is it?

Warning: the next blog is going to be a bit more, shall we say, meta-physical.