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What Do We Understand About Mental Illness?

It's not what we think it is.

I have written before about the epistemology involved in the psychological emulation of the medical illness model. As we in the profession are overcoming the Cartesian idea of duality, also known as the mind-body problem, many fine minds have puzzled about how the mind and the body do actually interact. At this point in the development of non-dualistic theories such as feminism and more sophisticated approaches to neuroscience, it is becoming more and more apparent that these are not at all two separate systems, but one holistic and complex unit. They act and interact in connection.

The brain communicates with the immune system and the gut, with every single cell in the body and this communication is multi-directional. The wrong combination of microbes in the gut can cause a depression as severe as any, but we may be looking in the wrong places for the solution.

In our increasingly fast-moving culture, the easiest solution may be getting a prescription, taking a pill every morning. In fact, the estimated number of Americans taking anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication is currently estimated at one in four. Furthermore, it has been amply demonstrated that much of human functioning is not just biological and chemical, but is also energetic, thereby involving physics and the exchange of energies between bodies and around bodies.

In my writing, I have called this psycho/physical energy “mattering”, as I believe that it encompasses and affects all matter, including every aspect of our human bodies. What does or doesn't matter to each individual influences the matter, the physical, often to the point of health or illness. Most non-Western approaches have been acknowledging and treating holistically for many years.

This issue is especially important as life speeds up, as we are all multi-tasking and running in place. Our human systems were not built for this amount of stress and, much like the planet we occupy, are on the verge of implosion every day. Many of you know the feeling. Multi-tasking is not a solution, because it is a simple illusion and not real. Our brains are not built for it, so when you think you are multi-tasking, you are simply racing back and forth between two tasks and doing neither properly.

And, yes, you are creating intolerable stress for your own system. You may not feel it today or tomorrow, especially if your body is still young and resilient, but I promise that it will catch up to you and to all of us who think we can ignore Mother Nature. Millions and millions of Americans and others are depending upon chemistry to keep them going, although nobody actually knows what these drugs do and how. They are prescribed by the superficial method of trial and error. If they work, then keep taking them. If not, then try another. And then another medication for the “side effects", a concept based entirely on the focus of the viewer to be considered "on the side".

I would propose that we stop talking about chemical imbalances in the brain and raising levels of serotonin or dopamine artificially as a solution to most psych/problems, as this model has not been substantiated in humans. Instead, we pay attention to mattering, as it affects matter, and to our own human systems and the very disturbing and stressful contexts in which most of us currently exist and try to live.


Kaschak, E. (2013). The Mattering Map: Sherif Award Address, Psychology of Women Quarterly, Sage.

Kaschak, E. (2013) The Mattering Map: Confluence and Influence, Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37:4.

Kaschak, E. (2010). The Mattering Map: Immigrant Assessment and Treatment. Women and Therapy, 36:3-4.

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