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Everyone is Mentally Ill

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticJuly 24, 2009 6:00 PM


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There's been a lot of interest over the idea that an "Artificial brain is 10 years away", which is what Professor Henry Markram told the ultra-hip TED conference in Oxford the other day.

That's an amazing idea. But Markram said something else even more astonishing, which, for some reason, has not got nearly as much attention:

"There are two billion people on the planet affected by mental disorder," he told the audience.

Two billion people. One in three.

This was presumably a throw-away remark, something he said in order to emphasise the importance of understanding the brain. But this makes it even more amazing: we have reached the point where no-one bats an eyelid at the idea that mental illness affects one in three people worldwide.

Well, if this is what we believe now, I think we need to stop beating about the bush with numbers like one in four or one in three, and admit that we now are now using "mental illness" as a synonym for "the human condition".

After all, once you pass the point where one in two people have something, you are saying that it's normal and not having it is weird. As I've written before, if you take the evidence seriously, more than 50% of people are indeed "mentally" ill at some point. So let's just say that everyone is mentally ill and have done with it.

Or we could reassess what we mean by "mental illness" and stop medicalizing human suffering. Hey, we can dream.

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