The need for philosophy
Some mental health professionals are now arguing that mental health should not be treated in the same way as physical health: it is becoming more accepted that the cause of common mental health problems is adversity in the social environment, rather than a biological problem.
Philosophy can help us think through difficult issues, and we think that finding a way out of the current mental health epidemic is one such difficult issue.
Through the ages, philosophers have wrestled with big topics such as justice, power, ethics, causation: these are all relevant when it comes to re-imagining a society that prioritises well-being.
Grasping these big-picture themes can enable us to escape the world of sticking-plaster policy initiatives. Philosophers also have the advantage of not being aligned with any particular discipline, mental health professional body or commercial interest.
To progress the thinking, we have set up an interdisciplinary body – the Forum for the Psyche. Participation is currently by invitation only but we plan to have a number of open events in the future. If you are interested in taking part, please contact us.
We are all philosophers at heart. But philosophy as a discipline can help us think through difficult questions, and we think that finding a way out of the current mental health epidemic is one such difficult issue. Through the ages, philosophers have wrestled with big topics such as justice, power, flourishing, ethics, causation: these are all relevant when it comes to re-imagining a society that prioritises well-being. Grasping these big picture themes can enable us to escape the world of sticking-plaster policy initiatives.
Philosophy in Action: making sense of the world
Increasingly we are seeing mental health problems as being the result of an injustice in society. By way of an example, a valuable philosophical contribution is the work of Miranda Fricker1. She introduced the concept of epistemic injustice – marginalisation caused by a lack of shared knowledge in society. She defines two types: 1) testimonial injustice which occurs when the views of marginalised people are not taken to be credible or important, and 2) hermeneutic injustice, which occurs when the dominant mindset in society does not allow a marginalised person to make sense of the world and their place in it. Both are relevant to mental health. For example, we might regard the dominance of the medical model as an injustice: telling someone with psychological distress to make sense of their plight within the medical paradigm, when the problem is in their social environment. More generally, not being able to make sense of the world, and our place in it, is an existential matter – no wonder it causes psychological distress.
Related to this is the work of Justin Garson2, who has re-asserted an old idea that the behaviours associated with psychological stress, including psychotic symptoms, are all normal responses to challenges or adversity. For example, feeling depressed would be an indication that you need to pause and re-evaluate your life, in the same way that feeling a pain in your leg prompts you to understand and address an injury. Depression therefore should prompt us to look outward not inward; however, in our society, the dominant view is that you should look inside yourself and see a doctor. Might we not see the promotion of that view as an injustice?
1. Fricker, M. (2007). Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Oxford University Press.
2. Garson, J. (2022). Madness: A Philosophical Exploration. Oxford University Press.