Sunday, August 21, 2011

Beyond Too-Tired Terrorism

Half a century ago, there was a jokey bumper sticker: “Support Mental Health or I’ll Kill You.” Now British researchers into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are under physical attack and death threats for suggesting the disorder has psychological origins.

Aside from the question of where victims find the energy for such violence, this fatigue-afflicted terrorism reflects nagging questions about where psychiatry ends and psychobabble begins.

With all respect for those who practice a profession that helps untold millions struggle with true mental illness, in the past half century we have gone from uninformed denial to extremes of medicalizing what used to be seen as bad behavior.

We all do it, including bloggers like me, who subject public figures based on their media lives to Freudian explanations for their greed, deception and irresponsibility. But our ignorance is encouraged by hucksters like Dr. Phil, Dr. Drew et al, who package glibness into TV ratings.

Marginal figures aside, it’s disturbing to find how many serious psychiatric diagnoses turn out to be more descriptive rather than prescriptive—-not only Chronic Fatigue Syndrome but Attention Deficit Disorder and a whole cluster of Personality Disorders—-for which there is no consensus about effective treatment.

Our impotence to deal with inner darkness brings yet another twinge with news that Gabrielle Giffords, after being shot in the head last January, has just been told about the other victims and has had to relive the shock of that day while her assailant awaits preening in the spotlight during his trial early next year.

In the “It only hurts when I laugh” category of frustration, all this recalls a moment from the 1983 movie, “Lovesick,” in which the figure of Sigmund Freud hovers over the antics of psychiatrists.

“I only had a few insights,” he says sadly. “I didn’t mean for it to become an industry.”

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