Concepts of Mental Illness and an Invitation, Part I

Concepts of Mental Illness and an Invitation,Part I

There is wide appreciation that the concepts of mental disorder used in psychiatry do not have the secure validation of scientific concepts which have been developed in other areas of scientific research. Part I of this essay begins with a review of these shortcomings as seen from the perspective of intelligent lay persons concerned about mental health issues. The essay continues, using precedents from the history of science, especially in seventeenth century natural philosophy (a.k.a. “physics”), by analysing the processes by which scientific concepts in other fields did gain a secure validation. In the best examples, rigorous explanations (especially those which cross between levels of organization) and concept validation were interdependent. The later sections fo Part I discuss how these processes have sometimes been applied in biological science. In psychiatry they have not yet been applied; and the remainder of Part I is a critique of what counts as scientific research in contemporary psychiatry. In Part II, a better way forward for psychiatry is suggested, based on the natural philosophy tradition, but with modifications to accommodate the fact that systems relevant to understanding mental disorder are vastly more complex than those studied in physics. The program of research which is proposed will be lengthy, using methods seldom tried in biology or psychiatry; and therefore a number of guiding concepts  are discussed, as possible directions for this journey to follow. The final section is for those who have understood and appreciated the essay so far, an invitation to scholars, theoreticians, and others (including those with lived experience of mental illness), to join in a collaborative effort to realise the objectives discussed in this essay. These are to establish more secure concepts for mental disorder, ones which better address community concerns, and ones which really are based on rigorous scientific reasoning. In the end a system of classification may emerge which is based on something more than conventions and authority of professional experts, and the faith of their followers.