Thoughts on Mental Illness

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mnemonic here:

For the most part mental illness is not an on-off situation, where you are either mentally ill or mentally healthy. Mental illness and mental health co-exist along a spectrum (actually multiple spectrums) where we can visualize each individual person on earth as a point in a n-dimensional (multidimensional)  “universe” and each person’s unique “point” would be determined by their unique position along the axis of each spectrum, in n-space.

Yes I am saying that human mental health can be easily quantized.

For instance, consider a behavioral axis concerning fear. This axis would identify the individuals propensity for feeling fear or not feeling fear. On one end of the axis would be people who are constantly fearful, while the other end would be people who never fear anything. In between will be most of us, but still on the spectrum somewhere.

Or consider an axis based upon sociability, where one end of the axis is people who can’t stand to be around anyone ever and the other end is people who simply have to have others around them at all times. In between again will be most of us.

Or consider the axis of moodiness. One end of the axis will be those people whose moods never change while the other end will be those who experience wild mood swings. Again in between will be most of us.

So so far we have three axii, fear, sociability and moodiness. So if I happen to be very fearful, not very social and very moody I might not fare so well in modern society. All of these are within normal human experience. An individual might score very high or low in one of these scales and still manage to maintain. On the other hand an extreme score in any of them might also be disabling, rendering the individual incapable of competing successfully in the modern world.

How many scales are there? I don’t know. I think scales for fear, sociability, moodiness, trust, optimism / pessimism,
curiosity, dominance / submissiveness, propensity for boredom, generosity, calmness/nervousness, several types of intelligence, aggressive/passive , creative or rote, and libido.  That’s over a dozen scales for starters.  There are no doubt others.  Sure some may overlap.  I will leave it to the bean counters to figure out the right scales.  It can be done.  A person’s mental state may be quantitatively analyzed, with probabilities assigned.  On a happy note, using this approach it may turn out that lots of people can be “fixed” using simple and non-intrusive therapies.  These will have to be new therapies of course as none of the current ones are working, especially drugs and what is laughingly called cognitive behavioral therapy.

If it helps you can think of each individuals position (point) on each axis as a mapping to a gene, where we understand that gene expression itself is complex, sometimes involves multiple genes, and expression may be triggered by adaptive or environmental pressures.  We can either think of it as a real gene or as a virtual “gene” in a virtual human behavior matrix.  No matter.

The beauty is that the more scales that are used, the higher the confidence of a good fit. Statistical methods can be employed to determine which scales are most relevant and what weight is optimal to assign to each.  Simple statistical tests can be developed to assess and assign a score for each scale.

So you can visualize the “mental health” of the population as a sphere in n-space, with people within the “sphere” being “healthy” and those outside the sphere in n-space being “mentally ill” ie unable to compete successfully in modern society.

The purpose of this line of thinking is to illustrate that mental illness is not simply an on / off condition but it is the result of an individual’s location on multiple spectra of human behavior and or thought. An individual may be outside the sphere but be entirely “normal ” along many of the spectra.

We must remember that the people outside the “sphere” are our brothers and sisters, just as human as ourselves, and perhaps for reasons unknown to us are just as valuable to the human gene pool as a whole as the rest of us. For instance if it can be determined that a person is very pessimistic about life, perhaps that condition could simply addressed with a small bit of unconditional love.

have a peaceful day,


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