Is mental “illness” actually the brain trying to protect itself?

Up until about a year ago, I still sat firmly in the camp that, while I viewed myself as multiply neurodivergent, I was mentally ill. Over the past year I have been unlearning this lesson, and realising that mental “illness” is completely unquantifiable, and instead, I was suffering because I had been repeatedly traumatised, and then lived in a world incapable of accommodating the particular neurodivergence I had acquired. Psychosis.

People hold on tightly to the idea that they are mentally “ill”, and understandably so. The deficit model of mental health has been pushed on us quite successfully, but what if it’s not the person who is ill?

Consider depression. A person experiences a traumatic event (remember, what is traumatic to me, might not be traumatic for you) and starts to feel as though nothing goes well for them. They withdraw from their environment and isolate. Is this an illness, or is this the human brain doing it’s best to protect itself from trauma?

Now consider that the cultures with live with, particular in western society, actively punish people who have experienced trauma. There is a lack of welfare benefits, inadequate and under resourced wellbeing services, and let’s not forget that humans are effectively judged by whether or not they make the right amount of profit while performing a neurotypical display so as to not make others uncomfortable.

To me it seems clear where the suffering is actually stemming from, and it isn’t the person.

However, let me be clear, this does not mean that people should stop taking their medication. I take medication, and it helps a lot. Attention Hyperactive people take meds to help them focus and perform daily tasks.

What I am saying is that while medication can be an important part of wellbeing, we need to recognise that this pathologisation of our human experiences has (for the most part) normalised our suffering.

In the same way that Christianity told factory workers during the industrial revolution that being in poverty guaranteed them riches in the afterlife; pathologising neurodiversity has told us that we are the broken, rather than letting us turn the lense on an oppressive world.

Sadly, many institutions (medical included) have a tendency to serve the overall economic climate, rather than the people they are supposed to help.

So where do we go from here?

We need to build on the neurodiversity movement and paradigm. We need to recognise that despite our suffering, we are not the sick ones. What is sick, is the society we live in. When enough of us stand up and say no, society is forced to change. We need to recognise the rampant oppression and abuse of power, and seriously consider it’s role in the development of so called psychiatric “disorders”.

In short, brains do what they can to try and protect us from suffering, sadly, society continues to inflict pain.

It’s time to drop the disorder.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

3 thoughts on “Is mental “illness” actually the brain trying to protect itself?

  1. Another example is anxiety, which alerts us to potential dangers. In a war zone, being extremely anxious would be a perfectly normal response.

    Dorothy Rowe wrote about mental illnesses developing from defences in her book Beyond Fear. I don’t recall any mention of ND but I found it helpful and interesting nonetheless.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve grown up and been conditioned to think that a mental health condition was something to be embarrassed about. I felt society at large, looked down upon me like I was some kind of ex-convict fresh out of prison.
    As I grow ripe with age, I see new ‘types’ of mental health conditions springing up, being ‘discovered’ and labelled. But are they really new…? Or are there now ‘enough’ examples within society to neatly pack them in a box, label it and push it into a corner to be forgotten about over time…? Just a thought 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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