Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

A Utilitarian Concept of Manas and Mental Health

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

A Utilitarian Concept of Manas and Mental Health

Article excerpt

Byline: M. Thirunavukarasu

Introduction

We, the generation living in the early years of the 21st century, occupy a special position in human history, in that we have witnessed unprecedented and unparalleled growth in the understanding and knowledge about the world around us and life on this planet. While we bask in that glory, let us not forget that there are some important and large questions that remain embarrassingly unanswered. The most conspicuous of those questions is one that is central to the field of psychiatry - "What is the mind?" Nevertheless, psychiatrists have brazenly avoided or ignored this question due to a learned lack of enthusiasm, given the historical inability to achieve a consensus about anything pertaining to the mind. Not to mention the inevitable criticism and/or possible ostracism that relentlessly pursues anyone who takes a stand on this controversial issue. Psychiatrists did not just want to open that can of worms! We simply hoped that if we managed to keep the can closed, the worms would suffocate and die and we would never have to face that uncomfortable question again. We believed that just like we managed to evade the exact definition of mental illness, we would be similarly successful in evading the definition of the mind. However, in the last several decades, human life has transformed so much that we are now faced with a relatively new concept - mental health, which too remains to be defined. The list keeps growing and our silence has been deafening. While our understanding of the human brain, human behaviour, and neurosciences has grown exponentially, the task of describing or defining the mind has also become increasingly difficult. Our wilful indifference or tactical retreat from confronting these tough questions is not helping us, one bit. Increasingly, we are educating ourselves with an explanation that any definition of mind or mental health is not even a possibility, let alone plausibility. Let me highlight the importance of this issue by discussing the well-known, controversial, yet insightful Rosenhan experiment.

The Rosenhan Experiment

In 1973, American psychologist David L. Rosenhan published the findings of his controversial study, 'On being sane in insane places' in the journal Science , stirring up a lot of reactions and criticisms among the psychiatric community. [sup][1] It was a two-part experiment exploring the consistency and validity of traditional methods of psychiatric diagnoses. For the first experiment, Rosenhan arranged a group of 8 normal individuals called 'pseudopatients' who were known to have no psychological or psychiatric pathology. They included a psychology graduate student, 3 psychologists, a pediatrician, a psychiatrist, a painter and a housewife. Three of them were women and five of them men. Rosenhan was one among them. These pseudopatients appeared at 12 different psychiatric hospitals (11 university or state hospitals and 1 private hospital), reporting a false complaint of repeatedly hearing something such as "thud", or "hollow" or "empty" and gaining secret admission. They used pseudonyms (false names) to feign their real identity. However, other than this fabricated complaint of auditory hallucination, they reported no other problems and behaved completely normal, i.e., as they would usually behave. Rosenhan conducted this experiment to see if psychiatrists could correctly identify the pseudopatients with one fabricated symptom, as sane. To everyone's embarrassment, all these patients were diagnosed with schizophrenia, except the one who appeared at the private institution who was diagnosed with manic-depressive psychosis. All of them were admitted into inpatient wards, with stay ranging between 7 and 52 days and averaging at 19 days. As instructed and planned prior to the study, these pseudopatients stopped complaining of the initial complaint soon after admission. They observed the condition and happenings inside the psychiatric hospitals keenly and took notes diligently. …

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