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To me there is an element of truth in Szasz’s position. At the same time, I find it simplistic and of limited help when working as a psychotherapist with people struggling to be freed from what Blake called “mind-Forg’d manacles”. The mind is a delicate but also complex instrument quite capable of creating misery for itself. This is something we have always known. The plays of Sophocles and Shakespeare are full of self-inflicted suffering. But I would argue that we now have a much fuller appreciation of the mechanisms and motives involved in what seems to be so irrational. This is thanks mainly to the findings of “depth psychology” and those well-known figures from the last 150 years who have led the way in this field: on the continent, Freud and Jung, and closer to home our own John Bowlby and Donald Winnicott.

Szasz himself was in favour of the kind of psychotherapy associated with these names — so long as it was between consenting adults. In his day this was still quite widely available within the NHS, whereas now there is not much meaningful psychotherapy of any description. The “talking therapies” that are offered either as an alternative to or in conjunction with medication tend to be short-term and superficial, and there is now a push to eliminate human contact altogether by turning some of these digital.

For all that the present government is promising us the biggest expansion of mental health services in Europe, as though this could not be anything other than the best possible news, one of the striking trends of the last few years has been the emergence of patient-led groups and initiatives that have chosen to opt out of these services on the grounds that they pathologise everyday experience. Best-known among these is the Hearing Voices Network, which offers an alternative way of thinking about and living with what they call “unusual perception” to the standard psychiatric one. But dissent is starting to become quite mainstream among practitioners, too. As president of the British Psychological Society from 2016-17, Professor Peter Kinderman frequently questioned the “disease model” approach to mental health, while the existence of the Critical Psychiatry Network is proof that not all psychiatrists are wedded to this model either.

So before we rush ahead with introducing the language of mental health and the methods associated with it into the workplace and even schools, it might be worth asking whether we are clear what we hope to achieve by this. To claim that there are hidden epidemics of anxiety or depression in these settings that need treating is precisely that — a claim.

I am not denying that there are many employees who struggle in their jobs or children who can’t face going to school. There are people at all stages of life for whom feelings of confusion, rage or despair, to name just three, are more than they can bear. The question is whether we want to medicalise these states of mind and, as part of doing so, to seek to “cure” them.

It seems to me that until quite recently we had in the West religious and philosophical frameworks that gave us ways of understanding ourselves which were profound, rich and above all true. Having largely discarded these frameworks, it may be that the shallow and specious vocabulary of “mental health” is all we have left to us for reflecting on the life of our minds and even our souls. But as these lines from the poem Ars Poetica?  by Czeslaw Milosz suggest, this is a poor substitute:

There was a time when only wise books were read,
helping us to bear our pain and misery.
This, after all, is not quite the same
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.

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