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Introduction: the existence of mental illness 

Introduction: the existence of mental illness
Introduction: the existence of mental illness

Neil Pickering

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date: 07 April 2020

‘My aim in this essay is to raise the question “Is there such a thing as mental illness?” and to argue that there is not’ (Szasz, 1982, p. 19). Questions like this one, which Thomas Szasz posed first in 1960, are the starting point for this book. According to Szasz mental illness is a myth (as in the title of the article the above quote is taken from) or a metaphor. According to Mary Boyle (1990), schizophrenia is a ‘scientific delusion’. According to Breggin (1998) there's no such illness as ADHD.

The aim of this book is to explore one way in which it is possible to answer Szasz's radical question with a yes. This way of answering yes is to say that mental illness, or specific diagnoses, exist in so far as we create or invent them. This way of answering takes seriously the underlying reasons for the scepticism of some who ask these radical questions and answer them with a no. Indeed, in putting forward this way of answering yes I shall accept a good deal of what the sceptics say. Indeed, I imagine that some reading this book will sense that I accept a good deal too much of the sceptics’ arguments. Often I shall suggest, for example, that we can accept pretty much all of what a sceptic claims, but still reach a non-sceptical conclusion.

What underlies the position explored here is a sense that the reasons both sceptics and non-sceptics typically give for their answers to the radical questions are faulty. There's something wrong about the way the debate has in large part been set up, something misleading about the choices we are commonly offered. We need to rethink the debate.

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