The idea that mental anguish is an illness is dehumanizing and destroys the concept of what it means to be a person. The concept of “mental illness” creates a less-than-human creature whose distressing feelings and behaviors are illegitimate. For the existentialist – feelings of loneliness, boredom, despair, and meaninglessness, are central to life. They are problems to be overcome, not diseases to be cured.
Existentialism is a philosophy that, reacts to an apparently absurd or meaningless world by urging the individual to overcome alienation, oppression, and despair through freedom and self-creation in order to become a genuine person1. Viewing life through the existentialist lens, the concept of “mental illness” is a form of existential murder of personhood, the human spirit, and the soul.
For the existentialist, mental anguish is part of life. Only by experiencing anxiety, depression, and alienation would one move to confront these existential problems through self-creation.
The existentialist embraces life, but more than that, he accepts responsibility for his life. Whether he makes poor choices and lives a poor life, or chooses to live a genuine flourishing life – what he does with his life is up to him.
Life is no picnic. We are thrust into an uncaring world; a world that is often hostile to our very existence. In order to live a flourishing life, we must wrestle with the fundamental problems in life: creating meaning, confronting one’s own finite existence, and overcoming loneliness and boredom. We can choose to live like the herd and simply go through the motions, or we can choose to live life on our own terms.
Feelings of despair, alienation, and meaningless are fundamental to human existence. Alleviating such feelings is what motivates a person to create meaning for oneself. It is no surprise that those who fail to find answers to life’s existential questions find themselves in despair. For the existentialist, mental anguish is an adaptive response to failing to devise answers to life’s problems.
People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates. – Thomas Szasz
The Dehumanizing Concept of Mental Illness
The word “mental illness” is an attempt to portray unwanted emotions and behaviors as if they are illnesses that require medical treatment. As Thomas Szasz pointed out in The Meaning of Mind, the mind is an immaterial concept – it cannot be diseased.
The concept of a sick mind is a categorical mistake. A mind can only be sick in the same sense that a joke or an economy can be sick. Looking for a medical cure for a sick joke doesn’t make any sense. You cannot “cure” a mind, as you cannot cure a joke. A joke is sick because the person hearing the joke has values that he judges the joke by. A mind can only be sick in the sense that an outsider has values by which he judges another’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors as unusual, distressing, or deviant.
Those who promote the idea of mental illness are guilty of existential murder. They destroy the concept of personhood, creating a zombie-like creature – a slab of meat, bones, and brains that simply follow biochemical signals. The promoters of mental illness destroy the concept of personhood, the human spirit, the soul, free will, personal responsibility, and self-determination.
The idea of mental illness creeps into every facet of modern-day life. Instead of a person who is intensely interested in a single topic, we have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Rather than a person who cannot sit still and has lots of energy, we have ADHD. A man who likes to have too much sex is a Sex Addict. A woman who has too little sex has Arousal Disorder. A person sad about his life circumstances has “clinical depression”. Nicotinism, caffeinism, and alcoholism are all diseases that cause a person to consume too much of something that he enjoys. The list is endless. Promoters of mental illness will not stop until all human behavior is classified as a disease. A disease that can be cured with the help of the promoters of mental illness, of course.
A Person Is Not a Machine
A Person is not an elaborate machine. A person has reasons for his thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. A person makes choices. We feel depressed, anxious, and lonely, and we have reasons for feeling that way. To suggest otherwise to turn the concept of a person on its head. If we are anxious it is usually because we are overemphasizing the evaluation of others. If we are depressed it is often because we are making demands on ourselves, the world, or life itself that cannot be attained.
We alone are responsible for the life we chose to live. We are responsible for the judgments we pass on life and ourselves, and the seriousness with which we accept the judgments of others. Life may be difficult, but it is not a disease to be cured, it is a task we are faced with. Life presents us with problems to overcome.
The most pressing problems are existential problems, not mental diseases.