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The myth of mental illness: 50 years later

  • Thomas Szasz (a1)
Summary

Fifty years ago I noted that modern psychiatry rests on a basic conceptual error – the systematic misinterpretation of unwanted behaviours as the diagnoses of mental illnesses pointing to underlying neurological diseases susceptible to pharmacological treatments. I proposed instead that we view persons called ‘mental patients' as active players in real life dramas, not passive victims of pathophysiological processes outside their control. In this essay, I briefly review the recent history of this culturally validated medicalisation of (mis)behaviours and its social consequences.

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Copyright
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
Thomas Szasz (tszasz@aol.com)
Footnotes
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This paper was delivered as a plenary address at the International Congress of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Edinburgh, 24 June 2010. See also commentary, pp. 183–184, this issue.

Declaration of interest

None.

Footnotes
References
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1 Szasz, T. The myth of mental illness. Am Psychol 1960; 15: 113–8.
2 Szasz, T. The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct. Hoeber-Harper, 1961; rev. ed. HarperCollins 1974, 2000.
3 Szasz, T. Psychiatry and the control of dangerousness: on the apostrophic function of the term ‘mental illness’. J Med Ethics 2003; 29: 227–30.
4 Clinton, WJ. Remarks at the White House Conference on Mental Health, June 7, 1999. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton, 1999, Book 1, January 1 to June 30, 1999: 895. U.S. Government Printing Office, National Archives and Records Administration, Office of the Federal Register, 2000.
5 Satcher, D. Satcher discusses MH issues hurting black community. Psychiatr News 1999; 34: 6.
6 Szasz, T. Psychiatry: The Science of Lies. Syracuse University Press, 2008.
7 Shakespeare, W. Macbeth (ed Harbarge, A): 100–1. Penguin Classics.,
8 Szasz, T. The Meaning of Mind: Language, Morality, and Neuroscience: 12. Syracuse University Press, 2002.
9 Kierkegaard, S. A visit to the doctor: can medicine abolish the anxious conscience? In Parables of Kierkegaard (ed Oden, TC): 57. Princeton University Press, 1978.
10 Hawthorne, N. (1850) The Scarlet Letter: 124–5. Bantam Dell, 2003.
11 Canguilhem, G. On the Normal and the Pathological: 46. D Reidel, 1978.
12 Szasz, T. Diagnoses are not diseases. Lancet 1991; 338: 1574–6.
13 Grenander, ME (ed) Asclepius at Syracuse: Thomas Szasz, Libertarian Humanist. State University of New York, Mimeographed, 1980.
14 Hoeller, K. Thomas Szasz: moral philosopher of psychiatry. Rev Existent Psychol Psychiatry 1997; 23: 1301.
15 Vatz, RE, Weinberg, LS. The rhetorical paradigm in psychiatric history: Thomas Szasz and the myth of mental illness. In Discovering the History of Psychiatry (eds Micale, MS, Porter, R): 311–30. Oxford University Press, 1994.
16 Porter, R. Madness: A Brief History: 13. Oxford University Press,, 2002.
17 Bleuler, E. Dementia Praecox or the Group of Schizophrenias (transl Zinkin, J): 488–9. International Universities Press,, 1911.
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BJPsych Bulletin
  • ISSN: 1758-3209
  • EISSN: 1758-3217
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The myth of mental illness: 50 years later

  • Thomas Szasz (a1)
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