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Beliefs and theories about mental illness vary greatly throughout the eyes of professionals. Many view mental illness as a serious condition, while others take it less seriously and see it as a part of everyday life. Although many think doctors are always right, they underestimate the influence and power these physicians exercise based upon their own personal views and ideas. Illustrated in the article, Social Class, Ethnicity and Mental Illness, Ann Vander Stoep and Bruce Link try to show whether there is a relation between mental illness which is linked to ethnicity and people with diverse backgrounds. In contrast, there is the view of Elaine Schowalter who is skeptical about doctors diagnosing mental illness and in her essay, Defining Hysteria, where she portrays her disbelief and doubts relating to hysteria. As a result, contradicting beliefs have lead to people being misdiagnosed and the mentally ill have suffered these negative consequences.
Stoep and Link clearly show personal prejudices can lead to tainted results and answers impacting the mental health service policies. Because Jarvis was an accredited doctor with fifty- plus years experience, people were inclined to believe his data and theories about mental illness based upon social class and ethnicity. Edward Jarvis was one of the first physicians in America to practice psychiatry and to apply statistical methods to the study of health and social problems (1396). He had the credentials and education that assisted him in persuading others. Jarvis long career and status made it even easier for him to manipulate his data according to his own beliefs. Jarvis had both the numbers and the methodology to test his assumptions, but he did not do so. The conclusions he drew from his survey played and influential role in shaping the public mental health policies throughout the nation (1397). This goes to show how Jarvis personal beliefs were able to alter the truth.
Jarvis was not the only one guilty of this. A notable physician/scientist, Samuel George Morton, also had his own prejudiced ideas. His beliefs reflected the relation between race and cranial capacity which were believed to mirror intellectual capacity. Even more recent, Dorothy Lewis advocates her viewpoints concerning adolescents. Her personal opinion was that youths locked up in correctional facilities would tend to be more violent than those housed in a psychiatric hospitals. Like Jarvis, both Morton and Lewis also let their personal beliefs undermine their ability to perform unbiased research.
Polluted perceptions about mental illness are clearly shown throughout Stoep and Links article. Jarvis biased beliefs have been detrimental to our society back then as well as today, being that patients went untreated. Stoep and Link state, Perhaps his own New World middle class, Protestant, agrarian values had blinded Jarvis, an erudite scientist, to the facts embedded within his own carefully collected data (1402). His power and personal values tainted the outcome of his research and experiments.
In the nineteenth century, there was limited research and information about mental illness as a disease; in fact, it was poorly understood by many, including doctors: The definitions of mental health status used by Jarvis are less clear. The psychiatric nosological categories of the day included insane lunatics and feeble-minded idiots. In the lay and medical literature, insane persons were described as melancholic, maniacal, or simple mad (1397). People were quite confused about mental illness and it was referred to and labeled many different names.
Interestingly, Jarvis conclusions tended to gain credibility for the simple reason that he was educated and had over fifty years experience including high status in the field of mental illness. His background carried the day for him. Just a few of Jarvis accomplishments noted by Stoep and Link include, Jarvis was the founder of American psychiatric epidemiology was his remarkable study of the prevalence of mental disorder in 19th century Massachusetts (1396). He was well educated with the knowledge to perform such research. Moreover he was, commissioned by the Massachusetts state legislature to undertake a thorough census that included the identification of all insane and feeble-minded persons within the state (1396-97). Obviously, this gave him more recognition and credibility in the eyes of the public. Because people were inclined to accept his pronouncements, he told them what they wanted to hear and they were charged. Jarvis did not like the Irish and thought they were crazy, also leading him to manipulate his data accordingly. His prestige and respect paved the way for people not to doubt his research and statistics. Jarvis was a Protestant, instilled with agrarian values and came from a middle-class background, which I presume altered his way of thinking toward the Irish. In a way, his judgment was somewhat impaired making it difficult for him to make a proper analysis. On the basis of his crude findings, and without actually performing social class-stratified analyses, Jarvis asserted, Here is a large number of foreign lunatics within the state and hospitals and places of public (1397). He distorted his data in order to match his theory about mental illness. Jarvis refers to the foreign-born as, strangers dwelling among us (1397). It seems that he even looks at them like they are a type of alien.
Elaine Schowalter doubts the concept of mental illness and argues that it is not as serious as people are making it out to be. She believes it is a natural part of life and behavior that almost everyone experiences. It appears to her that maybe their isn’t such a thing when they there is not even a single answer to explain mental illness, – limps, paralyses, seizures, coughs, headaches, speech disturbances, depression, insomnia, exhaustion, eating disorders- the doctors have despaired of finding a single diagnosis (14). Showalter thinks hysteria is being over-diagnosed and is poorly defined.
Factors involving modern hysteria include anorexia and bulimia, which were two diseases that grew and became more prevalent over the years. These illnesses were recognized in the 1870s, but not much attention was paid to them, as they were not so common back then. In 1983, when Jane Fonda revealed her problems with bulimia, girls who may not have known about vomiting as a form of weight control were exposed to the information. A decade later they could learn about bulimia through the tribulations of Princess Diana (21). The disease became more noticeable and accepted when people saw celebrities and role models involved in this kind of behavior. As a result of all this attention, anorexia became epidemic. By the 1990’s, some researchers recognized that publicity accorded to anorexia and bulimia was creating a secondary wave of patients, and that men too were developing eating disorders (22). Once recognized, these two diseases spread as if they were contagious, becoming widespread and very well known.
Another factor was Mass Hysteria, which included witchcraft and witch-hunts to relieve paranoia. Witchhunting, wrote Brian Levak, became one of the ways that people could maintain their equilibrium at a time of great stress (24). People used witch-hunts as scapegoats to restore balance. Mixed with old prophecies, wrote Cohn, paranoia, became a coherent social myth which was capable of taking entire possession of those who believed in it. It explained the suffering, it promised them recompense, it held their anxieties at bay, it gave them an illusion of security-even while it drove them, held them together by a common enthusiasm, on a quest which was vain and often suicidal (25). Witch-hunts were used as a scapegoat to uphold sanity.
Due to inconsistent data and variable definitions, Schowalter remains skeptical. Continually changing definitions created doubts in many minds, especially Elaine Schowalter’s, Hysteria is not a single, consistent, unified affliction like malaria or tuberculosis (14). Because of inconsistent data, mental illness is hard to understand. Hysteria has changed throughout history as to what really causes it. At first, it had to do with the body affecting the mind, and then it was reversed. Now, it is said that it is the behavior that creates the disease that people can see. The symptoms and behavior varied between doctors and eras. Schowalter states that, a French physician, Charles Lasegue proclaimed that the definition of hysteria has never been given and never will be (14). Apparently, Schowalter is not the only one who was skeptical. She refers to it as a wastebasket diagnosis (16), meaning, a doctor will make up a diagnosis if need be.
Because doctors make these diagnoses, Schowalter believes they see it as a chance to take credit for the label. It is looked upon as an opportunity to achieve claim to fame in her eyes, These women tended to enter their physicians lives at intellectually formative times in the doctors careers, and they often served as clinical models- founding cases- of the doctors theoretical work. The doctors needed hysterical women as muses; hysterical women needed doctors to speak for them (19). Women were used as a scapegoat; they were the victims who were given a diagnosis to explain hysteria. Schowalter states, womens bodies were hystericized that is, turned into a collection of physical and psychological symptoms by the medical profession (19). The doctors used their power and biased beliefs to diagnose and create hysteria as a mental illness, while at the same time using women as decoys to back up their explanation.
Most doctors based their facts on personal beliefs and were often endorsed by well-known organizations, Influential diagnosticians have connections to institutions clinics, hospitals, medical schools which teach and promote their theories (18). These patients were also used as statistics, as they were vulnerable and gullible, believing any accredited doctor, regardless of their personal prejudices. Unfortunately, doctors saw this opportunity and used it to their advantage. And, time passes, people are introduced to more diseases and forms of hysteria. Showalter states, Anorexia and bulimia are examples of modern hysterical epidemics (20). Again, the definition of hysteria is altered as these two mental conditions are added.
Both articles recognize how often personally held beliefs and biases can originate and maintain over a period of time. It is inevitable that our unconsciously held beliefs alter the conclusions, resulting in false evidence, a false perception of the truth and consistently changing definitions of mental illness. For instance, Jarvis even went so far as to manipulate his data in order to fit his theory. Stoep and Link state, In his report, he correctly calculated the prevalence of insanity by nativity status, by financial support status, and by sex (1400). This clearly shows the results of the Jarvis biased behavior and demonstrate how far off his statistics were and how far he had go to correct his mistakes
The difference between the two articles, Social Class, Ethnicity, and Mental Illness: The Importance of Being More Than Earnest and Defining Hysteria is that Schowalter does not really believe in hysteria and questions the idea of mental illness. Stoep and Link feel that the definition of mental illness has changed over the years and is constantly being redefined due to unconsciously held beliefs that are inevitable. They see mental illness as a disease and show how societal views change over time.
I have learned a few important things and gained some significant information from these two articles. First, it is vital to get a second or even third opinion when visiting a doctor because of their personal beliefs. Looking back at times when I went to get an opinion from one doctor and then received a completely different idea of what should be done from another. This is now explained and makes more sense to me as to why doctors think and feel different ways. They tell you what they think, not what is in the books. It is their biased opinion against another. For example, I have been given three different opinions as to what needs to be done to my receding gum line. It didn’t make sense before and left me confused as to what I should do, but makes perfect sense now.
As a result of their different opinions, I have done nothing about it, which may be risking negative consequences. One doctor told me I needed surgery immediately, while another has told me I was fine and had nothing to worry about. Asked: do I get surgery and risk wasting money or do I leave it as is and risk having gum disease? Who is to say what is right?
As one can see, it takes decades to even discover mental illnesses and then recognize the difference between them. As the years go by, we gain more knowledge, doctors do more research and we then absorb more information that leads us closer toward the direction of the truth about mental illness as a disease. I feel that only one doctor cannot come up with a precise diagnosis for everything based solely upon his or her own research and beliefs. That is what makes it sway and when personal prejudice comes in, resulting in falsehood. I believe there needs to be years and years of studies by many different professionals from diverse backgrounds holding varying thoughts and insight to actually reach any reasonable and supportive conclusion.
Unconsciously held beliefs and the abuse of power play a big role in society today, especially doctors who also have a huge part in people’s lives. Personal values and ideas will always sway the thinking of a human being regardless of whether they recognize it or not; it is a natural part of life that one cannot help. Hopefully, mental illness can be limited and more often recognized so the decisions are not swayed so much, but are honest so that the society can benefit from doctor’s research and be diagnosed and treated in the way that they deserve, instead of lied to, being taken advantage of and ripped off. People were and are being charged to hear verdicts about their symptoms that are not always correct. The one thing doctors are aware of is their ability to control the outcome and abuse their power to their benefit. If they see a way to gain or advance in their career, some will do it at the expense of the people and our society. Overall, I believe that even today doctors are unsure about what mental illness really is or how to deal with it. It is understandable why people once relied on myths to explain these diseases and are still today tying to explain mental disorders. There was not a lot of information and research back then about mental illness which leads into understanding why people did use and come to rely on their own instincts and personal beliefs.
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