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WHAT IS MENTAL HEALTH?
Perhaps mental health is the opposite of madness. My own view is that 'madness' means taking a great deal or too much or even everything too seriously. Thus, if mental health is the opposite of this, it can only be the exercise of the meaningless, of vacuity, in short, complete bad faith and the obtuse flatness of inertia.
Fortunately, between these two extremes there's a reasonable dose of anxiety which nearly all of us carry within ourselves, as well as a reasonable dose of obtuseness and mendacity which enables us to maintain a precarious balance. A balance which is perhaps not wholly desirable and which is mediated to a greater or lesser degree by a social contract which, measured in goods and products, constitutes our commercial training that predominates over all and determines who and what is included or excluded. The real issue is thus when and why the production of shared doing and feeling is possible, credible and dedicated to some other end than that of goods and merchandise. Social realism taught us that beyond the commodity there is deception, lack of freedom and the institutionalisation of an abstract ideological power which becomes tangible and pervasive violence: ie. the State.
It is possible to think of mental health being present when a person
can live with others, communicate through language, express themselves
through acceptable differences and constitute themselves in a partly unique,
partly general way. Constituting oneself and being constituted on the
fine line of inclusion/exclusion, that limit where others can contain
you and you can contain yourself while finding a shared sense and practice,
an interrelated project.
This is what I know, basically. But I also know that when one goes beyond this limit, the social contract results in someone with certain professional capacities and responsibilities being designated to deal with you. And this is when we see the daily – or possible daily results of such an intervention: how exclusion can be confirmed and a state of 'non-health' judged and an illness objectified (though we should bear in mind that it is probably better to be 'ill' than to be considered possessed or similar and that – though here a healthy scepticism is obligatory - it is likewise better that a so-called doctor takes care of you than a so-called exorcist and that a hospital is perhaps better than being confined to the edge of the village). The issue is whether in this situation it is possible to rebind the strands of inclusion or if this situation can only worsen and these professions and services only increase the often irreversable and inevitable burden of exclusion.
If health and illness are often clearly co-present in body and spirit, but it is difficult to specify where one ends and the other begins, we are left with the sensation that words are utterly inadequate to describe what is really happening here. This inadequacy of words is due to their rationalising nature, which is incapable of dealing with the unique nature of the irrational. Using language to enter into madness is like using a yardstick to measure a liquid. But is language therefore suited to speaking of mental health, and the elements which make for a healthy mind? And health in whose eyes? The eyes of those who observe and judge me, or my own eyes, which I turn on my self both asleep and awake in order to confront the dangers that daily threaten me and preserve my own health?
In any case, is the secession from the world which is incorporated exclusion,
interiorised and self-validated aggression, the extreme sign of madness
or the ultimate residue of mental health, defended in extremis and against
all evidence? (We need to question ourselves concerning this strange fate:
if defending ourselves against 'the competition' is really as 'fatal'
as it seems).
All this is quite obvious and yet remains unacknowledged by 90% of mental health professionals and their practices, their 'production'. The 'psy' sciences are elsewhere and organise thoughts, models, practices and concepts of a completely different kind, superimposing one author over another in a long and endless monologue, a powerful soliloquy because underpinning corporations of power-knowledge, merchandise which accumulates and capital which reproduces itself, unverified, gratuitous, for the most part self-referential, intangible for any sort of crossed consensus. Psychiatry was (and still is in many places) a sort of instrument of terror understood as the annihiliation and attribution of an intolerable identity.
'Basaglian' therefore means thought-with-sensitivity (virtually impossible
to find by now), acting according to a minimal ethic, the decent practice
of institutions and institutes, an action endowed with that minimum of
criticism regarding the idiocy of instituted science in an equally idiotic
society which finds its apogee in forensic psychiatry. Basaglian means
deinstitutionalising prejudice, suspending judgement, taking oneself seriously
and thereby, perhaps, finally breaching the wall, in that anxious desire
for democracy which, by reducing obligatory bad faith, becomes our only
defense against madness.
(From: Franco Rotelli, "Ma la salute mentale che cosa è", in Communitas n. 12 /2006)
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