Thursday, January 19, 2012


That’s a shocking statistic. The report defines “mental illness” as behavior corresponding to a specific diagnosis in the psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The DSM list includes psychoses, neuroses, and so-called disorders. Even though some of the latter are invented and lobbied into place by pharmaceutical firms intent on medicalizing even more behavior, one in five is nevertheless an alarming proportion.

I’m not entirely surprised, though. Reading letters to the editor in our local newspaper, it’s obvious many were written on the planet Venus. It’s hard to believe how unconnected with reality so many of our citizens are. This revelation should cause the rest of us to scratch our heads and wonder what’s happening. Genes? Recession? Regression? Heavy metals in the water supply?
I suggest it’s because we’re losing community. It’s heading the way of the dial telephone. Instead of chatting with neighbors on the front steps or attending the grange dance, we collapse onto the couch for another numbing tube dose, with its relentless reminders to consume. We’re a centrifugal society, flying out from our center into private cocoons of dark-windowed SUVs, monitor-lit rooms, and walled neighborhoods. A brilliant New Yorker cover cartoon in October, 2010 depicted parents chaperoning their trick-or-treating kids around a neighborhood, each adult face bathed in the blue light of a cell phone. Online social networks confer the illusion of community in the same way junk food pretends nutrition. Proud to have collected hundreds of “friends,” we nevertheless tweet in solitude. A popular calypso song, “Zombies,” puts it this way:

I journey to me local coffee house to sip a cup and socialize.
All of de tables are occupied by elegant gals and guys.
But nobody say a single word, dey be staring at deir laptop screens.
Wid all of dis classy company, dey prefer to talk to machines.
Dey be zombies, zombies, passing as one of us…

Loss of community means diminished reality testing. We check in—compare notions of the world—with one another less often, and with a level of skill that's shrinking from lack of practice. Civic participation has become less discussion and more non-negotiable sound bites. A popular saying is, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It also takes a village to maintain mental health. We don’t need attention from psychiatrists as much as simply hanging out with one another.


  1. While I was in medical school (Psychotic State:)
    a good friend used to refer to people as the walking dead! I suppose the walking mentally ill is an improvement.

    In all seriousness, we are a delusional species, who are we fooling anyway?

    1. That's a state secret. For God's sake, keep it to yourself.