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No such thing as mental illness? Critical reflections on the major ideas and legacy of Thomas Szasz

  • Tony B. Benning (a1)
Summary

Enfant terrible of psychiatry and widely known as one of its most indefatigable as well as iconoclastic critics, Thomas Szasz (1961–2012) had a prolific writing career that extended some 51 years beyond the publication of his first book, The Myth of Mental Illness, in 1961. This editorial identifies and critically discusses three major themes in Szasz's writings: his contention that there is no such thing as mental illness, his contention that individual responsibility is never compromised in those suffering from what is generally considered as mental illness, and his perennial interest in calling attention to the political nature of psychiatric diagnosis.

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Copyright
This is an open-access article published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
Correspondence to Tony B. Benning (tony.benning@fraserhealth.ca)
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Declaration of interest

None.

Footnotes
References
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1 Szasz, TS. The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct. Secker & Warburg, 1962.
2 Creswell, M. Szasz and his interlocutors: reconsidering Thomas Szasz's ‘myth of mental illness’ thesis. J Theory Soc Behav 2008; 38: 2344.
3 Szasz, TS. Law, Liberty, and Psychiatry: An Inquiry into the Social Uses of Mental Health Practices. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963.
4 Szasz, TS. Reply to Slovenko. In Szasz Under Fire: The Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces his Critics (ed. Schaler, JA): pp. 159–78. Open Court, 2004.
5 Kendell, RE. The myth of mental illness. In Szasz Under Fire: The Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces his Critics (ed. Schaler, JA): pp. 2955. Open Court, 2004.
6 Shorter, E. Still tilting at windmills: Commentary on … the myth of mental illness. Psychiatr Bull 2011; 35: 183–4.
7 Read, J, Mosher, L, Bentall, R. (eds) Models of Madness: Psychological, Social and Biological Approaches to Schizophrenia. Routledge, 2004.
8 Siebert, A. Brain disease hypothesis for schizophrenia disconfirmed by all evidence. Ethical Human Sci Serv 1999; 1: 179–89.
9 Szasz, TS. The Medicalization of Everyday Life. Syracuse University Press, 2007.
10 Francis, A. Saving Normal: An Insider's Revolt Against Out-Of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life. Harper Collins, 2013.
11 Healy, D. Pharmageddon. California University Press, 2012.
12 Horowitz, AV. Creating mental illness. University of Chicago Press, 2002.
13 Horowitz, AV, Wakefield, JC. The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow Into Depressive Disorder. Oxford University Press, 2007.
14 Whitaker, R. Anatomy of An Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America. Broadway Books, 2010.
15 Szasz, TS. The Therapeutic State. Prometheus Books, 1984.
16 Szasz, TS. The Manufacture of Madness: A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement. Syracuse University Press, 1970.
17 Szasz, TS. Antipsychiatry: Quackery Squared. Syracuse University Press, 2009.
18 Benning, TB. Western and indigenous conceptualizations of self, depression, and its healing. Int J Psychosoc Rehabil 2013; 17: 129–37.
19 Okello, ES, Musisi, S. Depression as a clan illness (eByekika): an indigenous model of psychotic depression among the Baganda of Uganda. World Cult Psychiatry Res Rev 2006; 1: 6073.
20 Fabrega, H Jr. History of Mental Illness in India: A Cultural Psychiatry Retrospective. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2009.
21 Duran, E, Duran, B. Native American Postcolonial Psychology. SUNY Press, 1995.
22 Teuton, J, Bentall, R, Dowrick, C. Conceptualizing psychosis in Uganda: the perspective of indigenous and religious healers. Transcult Psychiatry 2007; 44: 79114.
23 Lieberman, EJ. Pharmacracy or phantom. In Szasz Under Fire: The Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces his Critics (ed. Schaler, JA): pp. 225–41. Open Court, 2004.
24 Fulford, KWM, Jackson, M. Spiritual experience and psychopathology. Philosophy Psychiatry Psychology 1997; 4: 4165.
25 Goretzki, M, Thalbourne, MA, Storm, L. The questionnaire measurement of spiritual emergency. J Transpers Psychology 2009; 41: 8197.
26 Williams, AR, Caplan, AL. Thomas Szasz: rebel with a questionable cause. Lancet 2012; 380: 1378–9.
27 Walter, H. The third wave of biological psychiatry. Frontiers Psychology 2013; 4: 582.
28 Breeding, J. Practicing Szasz: a psychologist reports on Thomas Szasz's influence on his work. Sage Open 2014; October–December, doi: 10.1177/2158244014551715.
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BJPsych Bulletin
  • ISSN: 2056-4694
  • EISSN: 2056-4708
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No such thing as mental illness? Critical reflections on the major ideas and legacy of Thomas Szasz

  • Tony B. Benning (a1)
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