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Sophie F's picture


Yes, thinking about the brain is a useful way to understand mental illness. However, like many things, when looked at to the exclusion of other facets of mental illness, can serve to limit one’s understanding of the situation. In some ways, an emphasis on the brain, on brain chemistry and ever-more precise brain-imaging techniques, has served to undermine the individual struggle, the tumult of living with mental illness. I think more than anything, this semester has forced me into the somewhat uncomfortable position of embracing mental health/illness as a continuum and as a project to be undertaken by all (who seek to embrace the challenge). I’m still not entirely sure what the implications of this stance are, but know it differs from my original thinking on the subject. I do believe that the health/illness dichotomy is not necessarily a useful one and may in fact be detrimental in terms of adequately working with people given a range of potential thoughts and behaviors. The more we limit “health” to certain thoughts and behaviors, the less understanding or empathy we have for those who do not fit the prescribed way of being. Thinking about the brain, its organization and working with the bipartite model as a way to better engage tacit knowledge and the story-teller, seems a useful undertaking. Thinking about the brain, to me, means not just technology, brain chemistry and the like, but understanding the potential of the brain and working to enhance individual potential by working with the individual at her level.

I love the idea of “getting it less wrong” because it is a gentler more compassionate way to view the mental health framework. As it exists now, it is about “getting it right,” which may, in fact, be an unattainable goal. How can there be one “right” when we are all different, when our brains are “wider than the sky…”

There are many ways in which the mental health system has the potential to change and I am hopeful that it will continue to change… Particularly, hearing people in the class present on different topics really struck me because it elucidated just how similar, in thought and feeling, many mental “illnesses” are. This really changed my thinking about the usefulness of diagnostic categories and the etiology of illness. The brain’s attempts to reconcile conflicting information result in different symptoms, but are the underlying story-teller problems really so different? This also led to me considering the nature of story-telling problems and how challenging it can be, no matter the severity of the problem, to actively reengage the story-teller in creating new meaning.

Thank you to the entire class for so openly sharing your thoughts and helping to shape my own. Happy New Year!


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