What if Our Belief Systems Made us Mentally Ill?
There are all sorts of stressors in life, but what if our belief system is a major stressor that leads to mental illness?
For some decades now, there has been a rapid increase in mental illness, and it’s not just that more and more states are being added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). We know that some mental illnesses have a physiological cause. For instance, in schizophrenia, a small area in the frontal lobe that differentiates between fact and fiction no longer functions well, so patients find it difficult to reason accurately. In other illnesses, like depression, while no evidence of chemical imbalance has ever been found, there is growing evidence that gut bacteria may be the cause. In still other mental illnesses — the ones that can be alleviated through therapy— it’s either the situation we find ourselves in or something we erroneously believe. It other words, the illness is psychological.
The one link that has been found for all mental illness is stress. Stress activates any genetic or chemical predisposition we have towards a particular mental state.
In a world where stress is the common denominator for most of us, we may well be one of those unlucky ones who have the kind of biology that will be more susceptible to mental illness than others. My late brother had schizophrenia, and it was probably triggered by the extreme stress of a highly dysfunctional mother who had some sort of malicious narcissistic personality disorder. He was already evidencing signs of distress and mental illness by the time he was seven or eight years old. However, he was only formally diagnosed when he was sixteen. It’s not an easy illness.
INSIDE THE SCHIZOPHRENIC BRAIN
Scientists are finding increasingly that the brains of people with schizophrenia are dramatically different from those…
Evidence in primates suggests that certain brain cells — including some that use the neurotransmitter dopamine as their principal way of communicating with other cells — don’t finish developing until early adult life. It is the dopamine connections that show the most evidence of malfunction in schizophrenics. These cells may be vulnerable to more injury during their development than cells that mature faster. This slow development, though, probably serves an important purpose. Some scientists believe the neural pathways that govern reason are kept moldable until they are needed — until an individual must begin to live as an independent, self-reliant being. If that is true — and at this point it is only a theory — it would help explain the onset of schizophrenia in early adulthood. The planning, rule-making part of the brain only shows its defects when a person is called on to use it, frequently and in difficult situations, for the first time. Source.
Are There Several Causes of Mental Illness?
If there are many types of mental illnesses, then, perhaps, there cannot be an overall cause. Yet when mental illness is triggered, the existing common denominator is always stress. Stress can come in many different forms. So while mental illness manifests in many different ways, it always come down to stress being the initial cause.
In my brother’s case, it was the irrational behavior of my mother. She would, often, for no reason at all, grab a leather metal studded strap and start to beat him. She would accuse him of actions he was not guilty of and expect him to know things he had no way of knowing, and then she would beat him severely for not knowing it. If he hurt himself as a result of an accident, she would then beat him for having the accident and crying because it was painful. It also didn’t help that my mother would scream like a banshee at my father, accusing him of things that were all inside her head. She really was mad. How was a small boy to cope with that?
Yet my mother did the same things to me — and whereas my late brother only experienced that once or twice a month, I went through that kind of behavior almost daily with my mother. Surely, then, I should have been the one that collapsed with mental illness. Yet, I have been tested many times for mental illness and I have no sign of it whatsoever. Instead, I am autistic — high functioning — Asperger’s to be precise. I have often thought that the Asperger’s kept me from understanding what was going on, and that I was protected to some degree as a result. I just got used to being called names, falsely accused, and being physically hurt. I thought it was the norm for most of my life, and I accepted it. It didn’t stress me. I was stressed by other things.
So, while bad gut bacteria might well cause depression, perhaps the cause of gut bacteria is eating too much sugar, and perhaps eating too much sugar is the result of stress. Sugar causes the same response in the human brain that antidepressants do. Perhaps we all eat sugar because it alleviates stress and unhappiness, but in doing so, we grow really bad bacteria in our tummies, and that makes us even unhappier. We can’t win, can we?
The Chemical Imbalance Theory of Depression: still promoted but still unfounded
A long overdue debate is raging about the chemical imbalance theory of depression. Having been deluged with this idea…
A long overdue debate is raging about the chemical imbalance theory of depression. Having been deluged with this idea for two decades now, the general public has come to believe that it is a scientifically proven fact. Pharmaceutical industry propaganda has led the way in advocating this view, but the medical profession continues to endorse it too. As Pies demonstrates, however, leading psychiatrists have been trying to distance themselves from the chemical imbalance theory of depression in the last few years, because the evidence to support it has simply never been there. There are really two myths to debunk. The first holds that mental illnesses (psychiatric disorders) in general are caused by “a chemical imbalance” in the brain-the so-called “chemical imbalance theory.” Scientifically speaking, there never was a network of validated hypotheses capable of sustaining a full-blown, global chemical imbalance theory of mental illness. Source.
Scientists have shown for the first time that there is a way to model how the gut bacteria in a mouse can have an active role in causing anxiety and depressive-like behaviors. Source
If Stress is the Trigger to Mental Illness…
If stress has been shown to trigger mental illness, then it is important to know what is causing the enormous increase in stress to human beings. There are many stressors, but some are more dominant than others.
For instance, somewhere between 75% to 95% of people are unhappy in their jobs. The reason for the variation in percentage is dependent on which country one is living in. The cause of the stress is not the actual tasks required in the job so much as the attitude of bosses and the unsuitable and limited pay received. Office politics also plays a part.
Yet there is one other form of stress that is often overlooked. It comprises the cultural belief systems that we are socialized to believe as we are growing up, and then those belief systems conflict with the reality we live in as we grow older.
What if we were told that all we needed to make our dreams come true was to work hard? What happens if our dream was to grow wings and fly, and no matter how hard we worked at being a secretary, we never grew wings? What happens if eventually we became stressed out of all proportion as a result of our constant failure, and then it triggered a mental illness to which we were susceptible as a result of our particular biology?
Nobody ever explains to children that some dreams are realistic but others are not. During childhood and our teen years, many of us want to be writers, artists, musicians, billionaires, etc. Unfortunately, the world might be able to provide work for a few million artists of various sorts, but at some point, there are simply too many of us to provide work for all. So regardless of how hard we work, it’s the people who have the contacts, etc. who will get the work. So we’re essentially believing an untruth that leads to an increased burden of stress.
What happens if we have a belief system that we would only be acceptable as people if we were married with children by a certain age?And then we reach a certain age, and it looks less and less likely. Wouldn’t we grow anxious or deeply unhappy, and wouldn’t that be stress of a sort?
What happens if we were taught that there was a god in the sky who answered all our prayers, and then we depended on that god for our career instead of going to university to prepare for it? What happens if we are told our race is superior and therefore we are entitled to more respect than others, and then we find we aren’t respected for our race at all?
“Having the genes for mental illness puts the mice at risk, but it is not enough to cause mental illness,” says Akira Sawa, MD, PhD, a psychiatry professor and director of the schizophrenia center at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore and lead researcher on the study. “When you add stress to the equation, at an age when the mouse brain is most similar to the human adolescent brain, the mental illness is triggered.” Source.`
In other words, what happens if our belief systems leads us to erroneous decisions and expectations, and as a consequence of those erroneous decisions and expectations, we develop internal conflict which eventually leads to excessive stress and, thereafter, to mental illness?
Would there not then be a case for ensuring that our belief systems were firmly rooted in reality? Would it not then be important to make sure that what we taught our children did not lead to unfulfilled expectations at a later time in their lives? And would it not be important to make damned sure that the media was not spreading fake news, conspiracy theories, and set us up for making decisions that would lead to stress and eventually to mental illness?
We, humans, are more delicate than we think. When reality conflicts with our internal view, it is a stressor, and when it becomes an extreme stressor, we may well trigger mental illness.
Perhaps there is a case for seriously considering that what we believe may not be the truth, because if we do not fix those untruths and unrealistic expectations, they may lead us to a place we do not want to be. Perhaps there is also a case for those who are in positions of influence — teachers, politicians, advertisers, or religious leaders — to ensure that their words do not set us up for failure or a misleading world view.