The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas S. Szasz

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Mental illness is a disease or a psychiatric disorder that is mainly characterized by impairment of an individual’s thoughts and mood. Mental illness can also be referred to as emotional illness that involves a variety of conditions that impair a person’s normal emotional, behavioral and cognitive functions that may have been caused by genetic, biochemical or psychological aspects. According to Horwitz (2002, p.19), mental illness can be prelude to behavioral deviation from the normal behavior that is defined by a particular group. This is contrary to the universal norms with which the definition of mental illness bases its argument to refer to individual’s behavior as having deviated from the norm. From this point of view, there are no universal norms, rather, norms are defined by a group, and thus mental illness ceases to exist..

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Treatment and Social control

Treatment of mental illness is based on the fact that the illness occurs as result of the way individuals perceive things and react according to their perception. Since such perceptions are common among individuals’ depression and anxiety disorders, therapies are used to reduce symptoms associated distress. Examples of therapies include cognitive therapy, which helps individuals to initiate new ways of perceiving things a reacting to them. Interpersonal psychotherapy can also be used to improve an individual’s social relationships that affect behavior and thoughts. This would help in relieving stress caused by person’s social relationships. Dialectical behavior therapy is also used in treating social illnesses that affects an individual’s ability to manage emotions.

However, treatment may also be done through medication for persons who have severe mental disorders. Medications range from antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotic medications. Social control involves the restriction of individuals whose behavior is believed to deviate from social norms set by the society. Individuals with mental illness are continually denied their rights, which do not even exist in the first place considering that the norms themselves have no degree basis. Every individual’s norms vary with regards to personal perception and therefore, there are universally right norms from which individuals with so-called mental condition are claimed to deviate from. According to Szasz (1960), norms can only be stated in terms of legal, psycho-social and ethical concepts, but there are no clear-cut norms from which individuals can be claimed to have deviated from.

On the other hand, the society in general is the determinant of particular unique behaviors and conditions that can result to one being considered mentally ill. The society, being an umbrella of all human behavior and existence, examines the general functioning and experiences of human beings and determines which aspects are desirable and those that can be regarded as deviation from the acceptable norm (Almeder, 2002, p.3). People with behavior that deviates from these socially acceptable norms are often subjected to society in the name of offering psychiatric treatments. A psychiatric treatment in its self is good for mental disorders but social control factors have the mandate of respecting the rights of an individual as a human being.

Persons with mental disorders have the right to be treatment equally and not to be discriminated against the so-called normal people. Psychiatrists must uphold confidentially of the patients private information that is gained from therapy treatments. However, the psychiatrists are allowed to disclose private information of the patient to a particular extent if the life of another person is in danger with regards to information concerning the client’s intention to cause harm. In some situations, individuals who are regarded as being mentally ill may be restricted from the public environment; this should only be to an extent that it does not infringe the right to participation in public event and the right to be informed on matters concerning the individual. Nevertheless, mental health practitioners must ensure that the process of mental illness treatment accommodates cultural diversity (Austin and Boyd, 2010, P.37).

The states law considers insanity in crime as that which involves extreme disorderly actions that are not understood by the individual. The law has it that a person cannot be held responsible to criminal activities if he or she is proved to be led by mental incapacity to know what activities are unlawful. However, researchers have criticized this rule as not encompassing all aspects that relate to individuals’ being regarded as insane. Defendants can use insanity as an excuse for criminal activities although insanity claims must be proved valid in the courts of law for avoidance of punishment. However, different validity considerations are considered differently in different jurisdictions all over the world. Some jurisdictions require insanity test to be at the time of crime, while other jurisdictions consider it at the time of trial and crime.

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Mental health remains an issue of controversies in health and psychiatry. Many arguments for and against mental illness and the way affected individuals are dealt with have been disagreed upon. Mental illness has been disregarded and considered as non existent but can rather be referred to as mental disorder and diseases that impairs the brain. Professionals have argued time and again as to the reference of mental illness instead of neurological disorders that impairs individual’s capacity to perceive issues and act.


Almeder, R.F. (2002). Mental Illness and Public Health. NY: Humana Press. Web.

Austin, W., and Boyd, M.A. (2010). Psychiatric and mental health nursing for Canadian practice. PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Web.

Horwitz, A.V. (2002). Creating Mental Illness. CI: University of Chicago Press. Web.

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Szasz, T. S. (1960). The Myth of Mental Illness. American Psychologist, 15, 113-118. Web.

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PsychologyWriting. (2022, March 14). The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas S. Szasz. Retrieved from


PsychologyWriting. (2022, March 14). The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas S. Szasz.

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PsychologyWriting. "The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas S. Szasz." March 14, 2022.