6 Thomas Szasz’s The Myth of Mental Illness Orla McDonnell Introduction Thomas Szasz’s The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct, first published in 1961, is a classical radical work that challenges orthodox psychiatry and the core assumptions behind the belief that what we have come to understand as mental illness belongs to the medical realm. My main motivation for rekindling an intellectual and political engagement with Szasz’s original thesis is threefold. First, in the current context of mental health policy and service reform

in Mobilising classics
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Reading radical writing in Ireland

This book provides a series of rich reflections on the interaction between the radical ideas and political action in Ireland. It aims to provide insights into how selected mobilising classics have framed or have the potential to frame Irish social movement discourses and oppositional activity. The book provides an account of the contributor's personal encounters with the classic text, some by word of mouth from their parents, others through copies passed around in activists' groups, and others still through serendipitous reading. The classic text were published over a period that spans three centuries. Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man, published in 1791, is the oldest text considered, whereas Our Common Future, published in 1987 by the UN-established World Commission on Environment and Development, is the most recent. In Hilary Tovey's commentary on Our Common Future, the work of a committee, she reveals tensions within the classic text and argues that its key concept 'sustainable development' is an inspirational but confused one. Orla McDonnell's essay on The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas Szasz considers his ideas about the huge social costs of the medicalisation of 'the problems of living'. In contrast, Orla O'Donovan's reflections on Ivan Illich's Tools for Conviviality, consider how his ideas can springboard our thinking beyond the prisons of visionlessness or circumscribed political imaginations. Eileen O'Carroll's essay on William Thompson's Practical Education for the South of Ireland traces early Irish articulations of socialist feminism.

A conceptual history 1200–1900

This collection explores how concepts of intellectual or learning disability evolved from a range of influences, gradually developing from earlier and decidedly distinct concepts, including ‘idiocy’ and ‘folly’, which were themselves generated by very specific social and intellectual environments. With essays extending across legal, educational, literary, religious, philosophical, and psychiatric histories, this collection maintains a rigorous distinction between historical and contemporary concepts in demonstrating how intellectual disability and related notions were products of the prevailing social, cultural, and intellectual environments in which they took form, and themselves performed important functions within these environments. Focusing on British and European material from the middle ages to the late nineteenth century, this collection asks ‘How and why did these concepts form?’ ‘How did they connect with one another?’ and ‘What historical circumstances contributed to building these connections?’ While the emphasis is on conceptual history or a history of ideas, these essays also address the consequences of these defining forces for the people who found themselves enclosed by the shifting definitional field.

psychiatry is under attack. This is particularly clear in Thomas Szasz’s sustained assault on psychiatry:53 ‘deception and coercion are intrinsic to the practices of mental health professions. The core concept of psychiatry […] rest[s] on the medicalization of malingering’.54 Needless to say, those ‘few’ conditions with definite organic change are excluded from the critique of psychiatry. In so doing, Szasz offers no clear means of understanding how psychiatry was constituted overall, i.e. including those elements that do not fit his critique. Rather than an understanding

in Intellectual disability

) viewpoints of those individuals who are constructed as ‘invalid’ by the dominant definitions operating within these institutions. This ‘validation’ model owes something to the grassroots-based community arts movement in Britain during the 1960s and 1970s, which utilised different philosophies about the nature and purpose of ‘art’ in society. It also rests upon the now unfashionable radical psychiatric perspectives of R. D. Laing, Thomas Szasz and others, who perceived mental illness as being created by society rather than being the product of personal problems. For the

in Changing anarchism
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­ ppropriation by ecological modernisationists and ‘alternative’ environmental activists. Some of the selected mobilising classics are primarily concerned with ‘diagnostic framing’, the identification and attribution of blame for the injustices social movements seek to redress, whereas others are more ­oriented towards ‘prognostic framing’, the articulation of possible strategies for effecting change (Benford and Snow, 2000). For example, Orla McDonnell’s 6 Mobilising classics: reading radical writing in Ireland essay on The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas Szasz considers

in Mobilising classics

rights, the oppressed are robbed of their identity.’ ‘The dominator’, she continues, ‘defines this identity in their stead, reducing it to a difference that is then labelled inferior.’23 As Michel Foucault, Erving Goffman, Thomas Szasz, and others have noted, in the medical field, as well as psychiatry and other professions that are marked by the labeling of human conditions by established experts or a­uthority 22 FRAMING THE MORON figures, such diagnosis, while it may benefit the ‘patient’ in certain ways, also reinforces the power relationship between the

in Framing the moron
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Therapy and empowerment, coercion and punishment. Historical and contemporary perspectives on work, psychiatry and society

-compliance were not uncommon for this period. The huge mental institutions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, were not only, as the anti-psychiatrist Thomas Szasz has suggested, places where madness was ‘manufactured’, but also became self-supporting if not lucrative manufactories or agricultural enterprises.14 The profit motive became in some countries entangled with eugenics during the first decades of the twentieth century. The Gütersloh model of Hermann Simon, for example, was for a while an inspiration not only for social psychiatrists in Europe and

in Work, psychiatry and society, c. 1750–2015
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Suicide, philosophy and The Smiths

’ person would take their own life.30 This medical interference in the realm of human subjective life effectively puts a normative moratorium on admitting to suicidal feelings. Because it has repeatedly defended suicide as a volitional act, Matthew Pianalto and Thomas Szasz argue that the philosophical tradition has construed the question of self-determined death in an alternative mode – a mode, in that it is sensitive to the qualitative factors that led the individual to suicide as a solution to existential despair, that must remain irreducible to quantitative and

in Why pamper life's complexities?
Ian Kennedy, oversight and accountability in the 1980s

Kennedy’s core argument was that doctors’ opinions ‘should be challenged by other members of society’.46 What influenced Kennedy’s retreat from paternalism? His work from 1976 onwards certainly incorporated elements from Ivan Illich’s and Thomas Szasz’s radical critiques of medical authority. In a 1979 lecture at the Middlesex Hospital medical school, which highlighted the moral, political and economic aspects of medical decisions, and reiterated that they were ‘not for doctors alone to make’, Kennedy acknowledged his debt to Illich’s claim that ‘the whole of medicine

in The making of British bioethics