A mental health manifesto: How to occupy your own mind

. . . before Big Pharma, Madison Avenue, Hollywood Boulevard and Tin Pan Alley occupy it for you

By Michele Ritterman — Our homes and 401 (k)’s aren’t the only territory that we’re losing to a One Percent whose disproportionate control of wealth has provoked grassroots “Occupy” protests across America since September, 2011.

We also appear to be losing our minds. When I began studying psychotherapy in the 1970s the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) for mental disorders was 134 pages long. It listed 182 conditions. The current edition of the DSM now lists over 300 disorders that fill 886 pages.

Have we actually developed more than 100 new mental illnesses in a single generation?

What the heck happened?

In my 35 years of clinical experience — and 65 years of living in America — I’ve observed that mental health has a collective feed. When so many are deprived of healthcare, healthy homes, food and schools, not to mention honest government, we lack the conditions to interact and act-out in healthy ways.

To Pfizer, maker of Prozac and Zoloft, our minds represent gold mines

Enter into this socio-spiritual ferment the mega-billion-dollar global psycho-pharmacological industry.  Its magic pill: invent a drug that could help us all fulfill the human dream of relief from suffering.  Perhaps the drug companies saw the human mind as a last frontier, so to speak, for profit.

Whatever the original intention, we need to be sure that we have not been sold the idea that we are chemically-unbalanced. Or that our moments of desperation — and who hasn’t had one — mean we need to be constantly mollified and medicated.

In these times we are called to care for our own minds, and not to let them be mined for someone else’s gold.

So while some of us may be Occupying Wall Street to demonstrate autonomy in front of banks and financial institutions that represent the central nervous system of the economy, could it be that we all suffer from a pre-existing condition? That is, has Corporate America already occupied our minds? Not just big pharma but the numbing products of Hollywood, the Mad Men advertising industry and the sappy song-writing sector?

Let’s try changing some simple social realities first before we conclude that we, or our children, are preternaturally defective!

The truth behind the mental illness epidemic

Depression is epidemic in America: ten percent of Americans over the age of 12 take anti-depressants. Nearly one in ten children in this country is diagnosed with ADHD, and 46% of adults studied by the National Institutes of Mental Health between 2001 and 2003 qualified as mentally ill at one time in their lives by American Psychiatric Association standards.

Data now suggests that drug companies are creating ineffective and dangerous drugs that can cause suicidal thoughts and actually decrease the brain size of many adults and children, among other side effects.

Perhaps in their eagerness to relieve human suffering, corporate psycho-pharmacologists and their marketing colleagues went too far in convincing us that we may be mad, and that the conditions of a mad, mad world need to be treated chemically.

But what if we, instead, started with this premise: We are experiencing emotions that are based on changeable conditions? What if many Americans are just saddened or angered by our reality, rather than out of touch with it?

An hour-glass as a reminder to check-in, and take time-outs

If you feel like your mental landscape has been occupied, here are a couple of road signs along the path to re-possessing it:

• If you are on medication for your moods or emotions, ask your doctor what underlying condition is being treated, when will you be weaned from the drug, and how? Also ask how if he or she knows how the underlying biochemical condition was scientifically demonstrated in the first place.

• If your friends are on meds, encourage them to do the same digging — and share stories. Hell, post them in the Comments here.

• Educate yourself about placebo effects.

• Don’t give up on talk therapy. See if you can find a therapist to help you shift out of your distraught states.

And when you’re in the heat of the moment, distraught or upset, please try the three-minute moment technique in the above video to try to shift your mental state. We post it here for you to replay again and again, for free.

Michele Ritterman, Ph.D., is recognized as the mother of the integration of hypnosis and family therapy, in her classic text Using Hypnosis in Family Therapy (1982).  Her book Hope Under Siege (1986) considers the applications of psychotherapeutic principles in the larger context of political and social reality. Read more about Michele’s work on her site, and on Soul’s Code.


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3 Responses to “A mental health manifesto: How to occupy your own mind”

  1. EDITOR’S NOTE: If you would like to research the statistical and scholastic source materials that inform Michele’s manifesto for mental health, she has shared these citations:

    Caccavale, J.L. (2011) Failure to serve: The use of medications as a first-line treatment and misuse in behavioral interventions.

    In N.A. Cummings & W. O’Donohue (Eds.),
    Understanding the Behavioral Healthcare Crisis: The Promise of Integrated Care and Diagnostic Reform (pp. 327-341). New York: Routledge.

    Glasser, W. (2003) Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health. New York: HarperCollins.

    Szasz, T. (1961) The Myth of Mental Illness. New York: Harper & Row.

    Wang, S.S. (2011) Psychiatric drug use spreads. Wall Street Journal, _______

    Whitaker, R. (2010) Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America. New York: Broadway/Random House.

    How to Land your Kid in Therapy by Lori Gottlieb, The Atlantic, July/Aug. 2011 pp. 64-78.

    The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Anti-depressant myth, by Irving Kirsch, 226 p. Basic Books.

    The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why? Marcia Angell, The New York Review, June 23rd, 2011.

    Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry- A Doctor’s Revelatins about a Profession in Crisis by Daniel Carlat: Free Press.

    Using Hypnosis in Family Therapy, Michele Ritterman, 1980-present. Zeig Tucker Publishers.(El Empleo de hypnosis en Terapia Familiar- Amorrortu press.)

    Hope Under Siege: Terror and Family Support in Chile, Foreword by Isabel Allende, Michele Ritterman, Ablex Press.

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