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Rated: E · Other · Psychology · #1996304
Critique of the mental health system.
Many accounts of what is happening exactly when a person experiences psychotic symptoms, or full-fledged psychosis, differ from the narrow biochemical model.. These are often determined within a culture, and can offer a more holistic perspective. Within ancient cultures, those who would be labeled mentally ill in modern developed nations were shamans and priests. Of course this was non-sense, right?

I’m finding more and more evidence that suggest the beliefs of ancient cultures might not be so far gone. They might just be downright scientific. Here is an example of scientific literature supporting the findings of such ancient cultures:

“owing to a lack of lateralization of function in the brain, people with schizophrenia and their non-schizophrenic relatives may gain in creativity from increased use of the right hemisphere, and consequently from increased communication between the right and left hemispheres. Interestingly, increased use of the right hemisphere also occurs in healthy people with high levels of paranormal and religious beliefs.”

I found this excerpt in an article published in the Psychology Today website. It wasn’t surprising to me. Having been exposed to the existentialist opinions on psychosis written by R.D. Laing, I’m familiar with non-traditional perspectives of the psychotic’s experience. Laing was a leader in the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The beliefs of Laing and his anti-psychiatric counter parts were that madness led to a heightened spirituality. These were partially spurred by the emergence of L.S.D.

L.S.D was first synthesized in 1938 in Switzerland by Dr. Albert Hofmann. It wasn’t discovered to be a hallucinogen until 1943. “Initially, psychiatrists were excited by L.S.D because the ingestion of tiny amounts induced in normal patients many of the symptoms of schizophrenia: hallucinations, intense anxiety, paranoia, unusual color perceptions, and feelings of depersonalization-where the boundaries between the self and beyond dissolved.”

The use of L.S.D in psychiatry was quite prevalent during the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The doctors who experimented with this drug would often come to an understanding that psychosis was an experience of hyper consciousness. Outside of psychiatry people look to experiencing altered states of consciousness to connect to a higher spirituality. This is a common practice among highly creative people.

Is there a spiritual significance in the experience of people who develop psychotic symptoms? The doctors and policy makers on the far right would say no. They oppose the perspective that mental illness is a profound spiritual experience. It is their contention that schizophrenia is an organic brain disease. They cite that there are biological markers of this illness. And claim that any stance that suggests schizophrenia to be anything more than a brain disease to be misguided.

I have my own conceptions of the extreme states of consciousness customarily associated with schizophrenia. I have lived with this illness, for my entire adult life.

My psychotic mind was like a forest fire reducing every corner of my waking life to ash. It was merciless and destructive. I got myself jailed, and I attempted suicide because I believed that if I didn’t, I would be tortured for years on end. This fear drove me to abandon everything that others work to have, just as a forest fire leaves all it engulfs barren and lifeless. However, forest fires create room for new growth and life. Much the same way my journey through madness, has given me more humility and more awareness than I could have ever known had I not lived with a mind overtaken by schizophrenia.

So, would I claim that my journey into and out of psychosis was enlightening? Hell yes! Regardless of the nature of mental illness, it summons up something in a person that will often lead to tremendous growth. Our western culture has a long way to go, before we recognize the experience of psychosis the way ancient cultures did. Those of us who have experienced extreme states of consciousness and are labeled as psychotic or mentally ill will one day create a revolution in psychiatry. Science be damned!

References: Neel Burton MD Psychology Today, Rael Jean Isaac & Virginia C. Armat Madness in the Streets

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