On the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Pangloss versus Ice-Bitch

“Welcome all ye listeners, today we are discussing the new ‘Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’, colloquially known as DSM-5, the sequel to the hugely influential and popular DSM-4 that really put the American Psychiatric Association on the map. We are joined by Professor Pangloss, streight from Voltaire’s Candide, who will be ringing its praises, and Professor Ice-Bitch, streight from the Chicago school of Economics, who opposes its very existence. I am your mediator, Paul Doubtful. Don’t forget to cast your votes online after the show so we can see who was the most persuasive.

Welcome, Professors Pangloss and Ice-Bitch!

Pangloss/Ice-Bitch: thank you, Paul.

Paul Doubtful: can I ask each of you to give your brief opinion about the DMS-5 in no more than 100 words, starting with Professor Pangloss?

Pangloss: my pleasure, Paul. The DSM-5 comes as a great relief to the large number of people in our society who feel they are not quite the same as others but whose needs have previously been neglected in the absence of a deeper understanding of their particular mental health issues. With the DSM-5 we are set to enter an age in which a large part of our society, perhaps even the majority, can receive the attention and understanding they need to be valuable members of our society. It equips local health practitioners with particular treatment plans and diagnostic tools.

Ice-Bitch: also happy to oblige, Paul. The DSM-5 will mainly serve to further medicalise our societies such that everything that used to be in the realm of personal responsibility becomes a medical problem, to be milked by a medical industry, and absconding individuals from the responsibility to find their own ways to deal with their issues. Rather than liberating the mentally less able, it will end up making a victim of large parts of the population, many of whom could have been proud and self-reliant adults, instead leading them into apathy and complacency, with the state penalising the successful to subsidise a nanny-state for the unsuccessful.

Paul Doubtful: thank you, that’s very clear. We’re in for a real debate here! Let’s get into particulars. Can I first of all get a quick answer from both of you as to whether DSM-5 will increase the number of people diagnosed with a mental disorder even in the absence of real changes in mental functioning.

Ice-Bitch\Pangloss: of course.

Paul Doubtful: ah, so we are not going to disagree about the immediate consequences of this thing or how to read statistics. Thank god. Ok then, let’s discuss the change in the definition of a mental health disorder between DSM-4 and DSM-5. It has gone from a ‘pervasive pattern’ of ‘inner experience and behaviour’ that is ‘deviant from a cultural norm’ to an ‘adaptive failure’ and a ‘failure to develop effective interpersonal functioning’. What do you make of this?

Ice-Bitch: you are just looking at exactly the same meaning, but more complicated words. You get this often when rent-seeking industries have discovered a weak population whose needs it pretends to champion: part of the trick of arguing for more subsidies is to keep the skeptical audience on their toes regarding the terminology. As soon as that audience reveals that they are not quite ‘au fait’ with the new words, you denounce them as ignorant malicious bigots who clearly should not be involved in the discussion. It’s thus a marketing gimmick meant to silence debate.

Pangloss: I actually wouldn’t deny most of what Ice-Bitch said, but deem this irrelevant. Of course there is marketing, but society gets marketing from all corners, nevertheless having to make its choice anyway. What I like about the new definition is the recognition that we are really looking at interpersonal functioning rather than inner experiences. It puts the relation of the mentally unhealthy with the rest of society centre-stage and thus no longer carries an implicit judgment on what to make of the inner lives of people, which will help reduce the stigma attached to mental illnesses. If you like, it’s a similar development as we have seen in the literature on poverty where we also started out just looking at issues of income and feelings, but have in recent decades become aware that the really important aspects are capabilities for functioning, leading to things like the Human Development Indicator as a measure of progress rather than just income. Of course, in the longer-run one gets to re-discover that functioning too is ultimately all about an inner experience, but I think that there is an element of educating the audience in these progressions of definitions and that we hence might see more recognition of inner-feelings, like happiness, in the DSM-6 definition.

Ice-Bitch: sure, but this too is itself an example of not really treating the audience like rational adults in that one withholds from them what goes on in the back of one’s mind with these definitions. Like the supposed Good Sheppard you are making judgments about what the audience wants to hear, how much they can understand, hiding some of the underlying complexities and intentions from public view.

Pangloss: you say that like it’s bad thing. I am perfectly fine with the idea that not every member of every audience has to be explicitly told everything. If members of the public would really be interested, they are perfectly free to look up the academic debates in learned journals that have all these issues discussed. The fact that people don’t do this should tell you they don’t really care.

Ice-Bitch: not at all, it’s a matter of information intermediaries. The public uses things like the DSM-5 as an authoritative signal of what is known in the underlying literature. Deliberate hiding of complexities and hidden agendas simply increase the cost of signalling, leading to inefficiency.

Pangloss: DSM-5 is winning the competition for intermediary information on mental health, which should tell you the public doesn’t merely want information.

Ice-Bitch: of course, but the audience should merely want information and it’s the job of scientists, even Psychiatric scientists, to teach people rationality by confronting them with it and demanding the same from them.

Pangloss: if that was ultimately possible, it would have happened already. We have to make do with a different world in which humans are less perfect and only have a limited capability towards rationality.

Paul Doubtful: I think we are getting close to the heart of the matter here, but before we get dragged into philosophical disputes, it’s time to move to the issue of how DSM-5 will affect the lives of those diagnosed with an illness. As you both know, DSM-5 includes many illnesses that to the lay person might sound a little dubious, like ‘Internet Disorder’, ‘Gender Identity Disorder’, ‘Hoarding’, ‘Binge Eating’, Autism Spectrum’, etc. What do you make of this?

Ice-Bitch: it illustrates my general point that this is the manual for all the losers and money-grabbers in the world. Of course, each brain is unique in that everyone has idiosyncratic mental abilities and limitations. But what purpose is there to call all brain configurations that don’t win a ‘disorder’? The list of exotic limitations that have now been branded a ‘disorder’ are just a list of excuses to lose. I hear that half of the teenagers in the US now apparently have some recognised disorder, often diagnosed at the behest of parents and industry-groups.

Pangloss: again, Ice-Bitch, you say these things as if they are a bad thing. Of course these disorders will be used by people to explain why they are not as ‘normal’ and successful as others in our highly competitive society, but there are surely indeed reasons for why some are more successful than others. Particular mental labels help explain these reasons in a way that leads people to accept their adaptive failure up to that point and thus help them recognise what they have to do in order to be at least somewhat successful. It also creates understanding for them amongst the winners. So, yes, it softens the blow of losing in our society but that is precisely what is so good about the DSM-5: it makes us into a more caring and accepting society. Not everyone can be a winner, fine, but instead of vainly telling those who lose that they should man up and accept they are inferior beings, we give them a place in society. A sense of belonging and where everyone has a 2nd and 3rd chance. After all, everyone is a loser in some domain.

Paul Doubtful: If I may interject here, before we get further into this, does either of you know whether mental health disorders are really on the rise and why that is?

Pangloss: probably on the rise, yes, best witnessed by the increase in obesity that is best viewed as a mental health issue. We dont really know about the causes, probably something to do with increases in stress and changed prices.

Ice-Bitch: I agree the rise is partially real and that it is exceptionally hard to find the socio-economic mechanisms behind it. It seems very likely to me though that a lot of that increase is precisely because of the molly-codling that is now taking place which makes individuals, parents, and whole communities less responsible when it comes to teaching individuals good mental habits: the mentally unhealthy get rewarded and taken care of by ‘society’ now, increasing that dependency. I partially blame the previous DSM’s for this. A lot of this must also be just increased measurement of what was already there though. I thus think you underestimate, Pangloss, how much this agenda is pushed by industry interests, a point made by one of the authors of DSM-4, Alan Frances, who is highly critical of DSM-5. Think of the amount of money and jobs involved here: psychiatrists looking for patients to treat, school administrators looking for clients to hen over, government bureaucracies looking for constituents to soothe and please. All these people will ultimately want to get paid by the taxes on the rest of society in order to ‘help’ the mentally disordered, and thus have an interest in finding as many of them as they can.

Pangloss: of course there is a large element of rent-seeking and opportunistic labelling here, but that is normal. Anyone who is trying to sell public goods, whether it is the military or the beach cleaners, will exaggerate the benefits and push politicians for subsidies. That is normal. Rather than see the resources involved as a negative, you should see this as the other great benefit of DSM-5 though: it will lead to a huge number of jobs amongst diagnosticians and mental health carers, people with skills that are probably not all that useful in many other areas. Particularly given the ever reduced numbers of workers in manufacturing, agriculture, and even, down-the-line, education and finance, mental health will be the next great motor of soft-job-creation. And one moreover that is not just based on tax-receipts but has export-potential. There are, as you call them, ‘losers’ in other countries too that want to be taken care of and they often have rich parents willing to send them abroad for help. And, to return to the point about the mental health decline being due to having become more caring, whilst this might well be the case, you don’t see a decrease in the two statistics that really count at the end of the day from a utilitarian perspective: life-expectancy and average happiness. So in that sense we shouldn’t be too concerned about the increase in mental health disorders.

Ice-Bitch: I am not so sure about that one, for stressed individuals are less happy so I am expecting those happiness numbers to go down, but we shall await new data on that one. On the immediate issue of the merits of having a mental health industry, though I can see how there might even be an export industry-element to this, I suspect you will find that the mentally disordered in particular are going to be unpopular immigrants and hence that you will be talking about a small market for particularly well-financed losers. But the basic idea that we should be happy to create jobs without a real benefit to our society is just old-style socialism. Mental health workers cannot just be employed doing work whose benefit really only exists because you first create the problem by telling every loser they have a mental health issue. Down the line, that whole industry is then a pure drag on the rest of society and the more dynamic parts of society won’t stand for it. It is they who will leave, forcing a collapse in the nanny-state left behind, just as we saw in Eastern Europe.

Pangloss: I don’t expect that to happen at all, for four quite distinct reasons. One, I think you will find that even many of the winners would prefer to live in a more caring society and hence will be happy to go along with subsidising the rest. There will of course be a point at which the tax burden might become too great, but international migration markets will tell us where that point is, so there is no real need to worry about that now. Secondly, you should not underestimate the cost of the alternative, which is to have a large part of society angry at being branded ‘simply inferior’ and nevertheless forced to keep competing against the rest. It creates a ‘do or die’ culture in which you have a lot more violence, stealing, cheating, anguish, and disruption. Keeping a lid on the social costs of having a competitive society by giving the rest a mental ‘out’ is thus even indirectly a useful goal for mental health practitioners and saves us tax dollars in other ways, like cops and prisons. Thirdly, I would still maintain that there is a real utility benefit of helping the mentally disordered be diagnosed and treated. It will truly help many of them be more productive and happier. Fourthly, I see no reason why we can’t have a viable industry whose jobs are circular and thus supply-driven. The same principle worked fine in law and I hope you will agree with me that mental health workers are probably going to give more net benefit than tax-lawyers.

Ice-Bitch: on the first point I think you under-estimate how locked-in governments can become and hence how bad things can become before the natural correction takes place. The second point is quite crucial, more so than the third one. The supposed disruption created by frustrated losers is frequently over-stated in that you have had many societies with very little sympathy for losers doing extremely well as societies. Indeed, in many cases we are talking about societies at the height of their strength precisely when they were somewhat brutal in their attitudes to the losers. In the height of the Roman Empire, the winning men killed the losing men and took over the wives of the losers. In the height of Victorian Britain, the losers were sent to Australia. In China today, you see quite brutal competition, together with sustained growth rates the world has never before seen. Yes, they have higher rates of capital punishment than everywhere else, reflecting the pressures in that society, but this pressure is clearly in ‘net’ terms making that society more dynamic and successful, not less. The third point really is just the second point in disguise and boils down to the same false empirical prediction, which is that societies that give losers an ‘out’ would gain in net terms. You see that conceit a lot in the literature on mental health, whereby it is frequently claimed that huge numbers of working hours would be gained if we’d make the mentally unhealthy more mentally healthy. Precisely because the world of work is the world of winning though, such claims are wrong. It is rather like saying that one could have 4 times more gold Olympic medals if the losers would have run a bit harder: true on the margin but complete nonsense for the system as a whole because the number of winning slots is by design somewhat fixed. I suggest history thus shows the opposite of the idea that it makes sense to soothe the losers. This is part of the point of treating people as rational and responsible adults: yes, it creates a lot of angst, but it also makes a lot of people more resilient and determined. It educates them to be more rational and successful. In the long run, ‘tough love’ is evolutionary successful and thus ‘real love’.

Pangloss: we read history differently. Whilst I am not disagreeing with you on the merits of brutal competition to the dynamism of society-as-a-whole, I think that you are cherry-picking the competitive societies that were successful and neglecting a large element of cooperation in those societies, alongside the brutal competition. Also though, we are no longer in an age in which the world can afford the single-mindedness that accompanied those earlier Empires. Don’t forget that the Romans, the Victorians, and many such other Empires, were also conquering countries with tremendous degrees of national pride and self-belief that made them quick to get angry at their neighbours. Precisely because the internal competition was so brutal did those countries also behave ruthlessly in the international arena, taking tremendous liberties with international peace and cooperation. In an age of all-destructive weapons held by all big countries, the world simply cannot sustain that level of aggression. Hence I am very happy to see that even in China, which indeed has brutal internal competition, there is a strong move towards the restoration of a welfare state, including universal health care and education. It may take another generation, but they are going to be just as sedate as we are and that is a good thing. So even though in principle I agree with you that treating people as responsible rational adults makes them more responsible and rational on average, I think the age in which that normative approach to rationality, where it was the Enlightenment ideal to be a rational responsible person, is simply no longer the optimal model for societies today. We don’t want countries that are that dynamic and it is not optimal for an individual country to be that dynamic because it leads them into war too often. Within our countries, the truly talented will still be quite rational because that benefits them personally as they can win, but I see no problem in letting the less talented be less pushed to be rational. Even in the past, they were not really all that rational anyway, with beliefs in unseen deities and magic taking the harder edges off their competitive societies. DSM-5 in that sense is thus, at worst, going to lead to contented hidden unemployment, ie to ‘losers with dignity’ and health carers who have a ‘welfarist job with dignity’. A sedate society, yes, but one that is a good world citizen.

Ice-Bitch: I think that is where we then differ most. I want my society to be the more dynamic one, to push the boundaries and to keep history interesting, even if that is internationally perilous. DSM-5 belongs to a world that becomes dull, predictable, and leaves much less room for the talented and strong to enjoy their lives and make the most of it. It seems you are the more pessimistic one in that your world will not find a way to cope with more dynamic countries. Don’t be so pessimistic, Pangloss!

Pangloss: a Paradise Lost, I think. Get over it, Ice-Bitch. Chill out, you seem like you will do well enough under DSM-5. I am sure there’s a disorder in there with your name on it.

Paul Doubtful: and that’s all we have time for today. I found it very enlightening and refer the interested listeners to some of the previous, less crystallised, discussions on this topic by these two thinkers (here, here, here, and here). There are clear overlaps here between the discussion today and the literature on resilience. You might want to check out the recent book by Gilles Saint-Paul on similar themes (‘The tyranny of Utility’).

Don’t forget to vote, and thank you to our panelists who I am sure will keep disagreeing with each other!

Ice-Bitch\Pangloss: thank you.”

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24 Responses to On the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Pangloss versus Ice-Bitch

  1. Mel says:

    Paul Doubtful appears to be a dumbass. Internet addiction is not in DSM V nor is it listed in Conditions for Further Study.

    I’m sure there are other oddities in there but I couldn’t bring myself to read more than 10% of what these geniuses had to say.

    • Paul frijters says:

      Internet gaming disorder is one of the disorders reportedly to be listed in section 3, research appendix in 2013. You can find the fact sheets on google.

      However, before entering in silly yes-no sniping, what is your actual name, Mel? I get a bit tired of anonymous critics looking for commas out of place. They are just cowards.

      • Mel says:

        … what is your actual name, Mel?

        Pope Francis. Bless you my son.

      • Patrick says:

        Don’t be silly Paul, it doesn’t matter what his name is.

        I quite liked the post since I think I share a lot of your priors in this domain.

        I’m reasonably certain that you could have packaged the same content differently and got Melaleuca on board :)

        • Paul Frijters says:

          normally I don’t mind anonymous commentators but if you’re going to engage in aggressive tactics, you should man up and let it be known who you are.

          Yes, other historical figures also came to mind. I was thinking about having a mufti come in at the end, telling them all to get a real job and stop worrying about things they wont influence, but thought ‘nah, that would look too unrealistic’ :-)

        • Mel says:

          My apologies for being a little aggressive, Paul. For some reason your casual dismissal of serious research on obesity got under my skin. Generally I really enjoy your nearly always excellent posts. Hugs and kisses.

        • Paul Frijters says:

          accepted. Hugs!

  2. Mel says:

    Another point, psychiatry has a classic lumper and splitter dilemma. I don’t think the average punter needs to worry too much about whether the lumpers or splitters win out re the DSM.

  3. conrad says:

    I more or less agree — it’s basically a manual dreamed up by a group of fat white male psychiatrists that decided what the correct social norms and way of thinking should be. However, if you read the first few pages (which almost no-one ever does), it actually says that — it’s just a diagnostic manual so that often poorly trained psychologists can talk to each up and use the phrase “evidence based practice” over and over again and have similarity in terms of what they’re talking about (despite most types of therapies for most psychiatric conditions having similar outcomes, with the biggest predictor of success being rapport with the therapy provider!). So the people that wrote it didn’t actually ask for it to be misused.

    The reason people think it is some sort of theoretical bible, versus the sort of equivalent of an automobile manual with errors (which is what it is actually supposed to be), is because far too much money has been given to medical doctors to do research (and many psychologists too), who by and large don’t care about theory, don’t know about theory, and do large and generally pointless taxonometric studies based on the underlying idea that the DSM is really a representation of the true categories that mental processes should be divided into. This manual (now supported by evidence never deemed to be circular) is then used by clinical psych people and other such people who generally really know SFA about far more well established theories of how the brain works, and they then lobby the government who believe them.

    Unfortunately Australia is, as far as I can tell, pretty much the worst place on Earth for this, because the only group that has any political power apart from medical doctors are clinical psychologists, and this latter group are by far the worst offenders for DSM Bibleitis.

  4. murph the surf. says:

    So is the general thrust of the objections that public policy is being swindled by boondogglers or that there are mistakes being made in diagnosis?
    Mental health consumed 8% of the health budget 2008-2009, all health spending was 9.4% of our total spending recently.
    I wonder if dementia is included in the mental health spend?
    So if there is a 10 % in funding in this area, in the big picture , is it really important?Other age related categories consumed much more of our health budget.
    Oh and the Ice bitch character seems quite the ableist to me….all this talk about losers.

  5. Having perused a preview of Gilles Saint-Paul’s book, I can’t say I feel like reading much more of his ramblings.

    I would recommend this book to you Paul, since it takes the rather interesting view that labelling some social problems as ‘health conditions’ has been a very useful way to change behaviour for the better, rather than worse.

    “It seems very likely to me though that a lot of that increase is precisely because of the molly-codling that is now taking place which makes individuals, parents, and whole communities less responsible when it comes to teaching individuals good mental habits: the mentally unhealthy get rewarded and taken care of by ‘society’ now, increasing that dependency.”

    I’m pretty sure that this process is overplayed by economists. But just think about this in relation to you previous posts. You are now explaining that obesity is has fundamentally environmental causes – you parents, community, social norms. And how would we change this? Maybe change our schooling to teach kids better habits – wow, change your environment eh?

  6. Julie Thomas says:

    Yep Paul, the DSM is a very stupid document and neither I, nor any psych I know well, has any truck with it, with the medical model of the psychiatrists or the clinical psychs who have DSM Bibleitis. Conrad is right about them – but I think neuropsychs are even worse, especially the ones who do forensic work.

    When I taught into Abnormal 301, my favourite essay topic – which had been set by the lecturer before me also – was, ‘what is wrong with diagnosis and why should should we only use the DSM when the system forces us to’.

    Lots of students hate that idea; they want certainty and an answer.

    But a ‘diagnosis’ is just an explanation, and people often need an explanation – now that we have mostly ruled the devil out as a cause of bad behaviour. In many cases it does help the person and their friends and family to have some explanation for ‘abnormal’ behaviour, that doesn’t come down to a simplistic judgement that the person is choosing to be bad.

    PS I didn’t read all your rant this time :) Way too much information about your personal life and too few definitions of those loaded words you use. Like … Ice-bitch? Dude?

    • Paul Frijters says:

      I am going to count you and conrad as half in the Ice-Bitch camp, in terms of how you read the content and drivers of the DSMs! I doubt you’d agree with everything else said by IB though.

      As to the names, allow me some playing with stereotypes!

      • Julie Thomas says:

        My self-diagnosis is ‘earth-mother’, who was forced by my early inappropriate choices – stupid me? or can I blame my brain and inappropriate upbringing – and lucky enough to live in a country at a time when the government invested in people and helped me get an education that allowed me to develop my ability to think rationally and some self-insight.

        If Ice Bitch – and you might want to characterise your use of this term as just a ‘stereotype’ but I ‘see’ that you possibly have ‘issues’ with women, that is, there are assumptions that you may be make about women and their ‘nature’ that underpins your choice to use this term rather than another – says this:

        “Rather than liberating the mentally less able, it will end up making a victim of large parts of the population, many of whom could have been proud and self-reliant adults, instead leading them into apathy and complacency, with the state penalising the successful to subsidise a nanny-state for the unsuccessful.”

        she is not a real psychologist.

        In my experience, no psychologist who works with people to give them the skills to participate in their society more ‘functionally’ – and how do we measure this? subjectively with reference to the client – is going to use the term ‘mentally less able’ or any of the other terms you use to characterise the mismatch between a person and their environment that results in them being unable to participate ‘appropriately’ in their society.

        Do you ever talk to any diagnosed people? The conservative voting grandmothers – farmers wives who would have crossed the road to avoid me when I was a 20 year old hippie and single mother – that I talk to when I work one day a month in the local craft shop, are finding that a ‘diagnosis’ – or just some information about how some types of brains work – is very helpful for them to understand why their grandkids are not doing as well as they should be doing and also that ‘diagnosis’ does help in finding ways of dealing with the problems that their grandkids seem to be experiencing.

        Although they mostly want to blame computers and Iphones for the problems they see in their community, they do understand and agree with my psych way of understanding the world and what needs to change. We all – n of 10 – agree that the emphasis on self-interest and choice is not working to make a good society and the advertising and marketing of products is a big part of what has gone wrong for our society. Specifically, the values that are emphasised in marketing – greed, laziness, envy, pride – lots of those 7 deadly sins you know – have clearly socially engineered our society to be very different than it was in the ’70’s.

        It is grandmothers who are noticing as you have, that our young people are getting fatter, sicker and increasingly unable to cope with the demands of this choice based culture where everyone is expected to be a magnificent individual and compete rather than co-operate.

        About voting though, this is what I have to choose from in the upcoming election, LNP, ALP, CEP, Katter or Palmer! No Green candidate or any independent.

        • Paul frijters says:

          Hi Julie,

          Sure, I see all those arguments and have put many of them in allegorical form above or in previous posts. I truly am a bit torn as to what to make of the mental health issue.

          On the use of IB though, it was not so much the female stereotype I was playing with, more that of the rational economist. You might have noticed I studiously avoided specifying the gender of IB, of whom you only get to hear the surname, even in my replies. It is the presumptions of the audience that lets them hear a gender!

          Part of the joke is that the rational economic approach is seen as cold and bitchy. It is also a completely male dominated world with somewhat masculine views. Very few female professors in economics, let alone Chicago, and many of them feel forced to become more masculine in their behaviour than the boys. You might also have noticed that Pangloss uses a lot of revealed preference and market arguments against IB, alongside his more caring attitude, raising the question of who the real economist and female is. Etc. I was thus having some play with form, Julie. I find it helps my own thinking to see an issue from opposite extremes at the same time, as well as to shuffle with stereotypes.
          I also find that going to the limits stimulates onlookers to drop their normal polite chit-chat and reveal what they actually think and why, basically because their self-image feels pressured. Thus you get their distilled views and ‘best evidence’ at the mere cost of a bit of discomfort. Your reply is very telling in that regard! It is quite stereotypical, really. Indeed, you tell me your outlook is shared by 10 other women. Another data point. Thus I learn.

  7. Julie Thomas says:


    It is a good thing, I think, that you are muddled about what to make of the mental health issue. We all need to be very doubtful about ideas that categorise people.

    About the IB, do you understand ‘taking the piss’? Women do it too in Australia. And you might want to think about what ‘theory of mind’ would say about what went down in that exchange.

    LOL I cannot see the rational economic approach as cold and bitchy; that really is amazing and is surely evidence of an unrecognised negative response to ‘women’. I see the rational approach as very male and aggressive. But I will do an ask around at the craft shop and let you know what the old women – a coalition of conservatives and green voters – think about the issue. :)

    • Paul frijters says:

      The ten wise women psychoanalysing a far-away economist? How flattering :-). I guess it’s not all that different from what I do. Indeed, we seem to agree as to where to look for answers to the mental health puzzle.

      • Julie Thomas says:

        I like that Paul and you are right to be flattered :) but it’s not an accurate description of the ‘pearls of wisdom’ that I was offering. I have more questions than answers and I don’t believe there is an answer at the level that you want to find one.

        But to get back to your ‘therapy’, could you consider why you used the word ‘psychoanalysing’. I thought we agreed that non-clinical psychology and not psychiatry is the part of the mental health system with the most potential to find some useful information about people and how to fit them all into a society. And then you accuse me of psychoanalysing you!

        I look for – and imagine that I can see them – patterns in people’s behaviour. I don’t have any confidence in my ability to understand the mental health system at any level but the personal (which is of course the political) and it seems significant to me, in terms of how the world is changing that I can now talk to people (and be respected by them) who once would have judged me as stupid and lazy or some other reason – based on my poor choices – that I was ‘marginalised’ – that is how Tel describes the losers.

        • Paul frijters says:

          Not an accusation at all, more a wink to Ken who introduced Freud to the thread. Sometimes a chair is just a chair!

          I do aim to understand the system, but of course the personal is an indispensable part of that system. It’s easy to look in the wrong direction if you don’t look at both levels. If you only look at the personal you get these half-explanations (like blaming advertising) that don’t help you with policy or even with the individual (eg banning advertising is a system change, and a fairly hopeless one when it comes to many choices that are too hard to define and police). If you only look at the aggregate you easily get swayed by things that make no sense at the individual level (such as taking food choices as accidents). You have to combine both levels to really make progress on either.

  8. Ken Parish says:

    Oh, it’s terribly complicated, isn’t it? I much prefer the old Freudian stuff where everything was caused by wanting to root your mum and kill your dad or vice versa. Of course that was complete crap too, but at least it was nice and simple.

    And all this stuff about losers making psychiatric excuses for their own poor choices isn’t exactly a new insight either. Sondheim and Bernstein set it to music 50 years ago:

    • Paul frijters says:

      Very funny! I agree though, nothing one can say about individual mental health that has not been said before. I doubt that the world has seen a previous occasion though with a similar explosion in obesity and increases in depression and anxiety. Maybe it has and I have missed it in my history lessons, but I would venture the scale of the problem is a new thing. Something new calling out for an explanation connected to how some countries have changed and others have not (yet).

      • conrad says:

        I think you’ll never get figures as to depression etc., since they just wern’t things people documented systematically (obesity, however, should be easy, but I don’t think you even need to bother about that). It would, however, be interesting to look at historical writings in times of pestilence, population decline and so on and see what people said compared to happier times. I’m ignorant on this issue, but even in English speaking cities like London, in historically recent times, the population would have been declining due to the awful conditions if not for people coming in from the country. Once (if) print media from those ages starts becoming easily available in large quantities, a bit of data mining might provide some interesting insights.

        • Julie Thomas says:

          There is a lot of recent Australian data that will also be interesting once people start looking at it. The link is to one research effort that is

          “working closely with government agencies to make use of the wealth of data that is routinely collected while providing services such as health care and child protection. Because all this information is now in computers rather than paper archives, it has become a powerful tool for research. And by using one of the new data link systems, any sensitive information can be stripped away and kept safe by the agencies that collect it.”


  9. Julie Thomas says:


    Paul You might find this blog interesting as something to react against; my diagnosis is that the writer is also ‘brilliant but barking’ :)

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