The Current  Science on Mental Illness

I have always considered myself a scientifically minded person – not meaning I necessarily understand science but that I, like many people, generally accept the scientific method as being the best way to accumulate knowledge. Below is an outline of the scientific method for those who need a refresher.

Scientific Method:

  1. Make an observation.
  2. Ask a question: Why does that happen? What causes that?
  3. Think of a testable explanation (a hypothesis).
  4. Design an experiment to test the hypothesis.
  5. Use results to draw conclusions and make refinements.


Why do I bring this up? Well you might notice many of the things I claim on this blog will not at all reflect what society’s current science on mental illness will tell you. And, when taking into account my opening statements, it might be easy to conclude that I am making a contradiction. How can I believe in the effectiveness of the scientific method and yet claim things which are in direct contradiction to the current scientific research on mental illness?

Well, for an example I will use the information presented on a website in Australia called “Beyond Blue”. The website is a fantastic idea, and I’m sure it has helped many people. It focuses on the topics of anxiety and depression, and I think the information on the site is an accurate reflection on the current scientific research on anxiety and depression. This is not to say I think the information is accurate, as you will soon find out. Here’s a link:

Now, I want to walk though the steps of the scientific method with regard to claims on this website – the claims of the latest scientific research. For this example, I will focus on the cause of anxiety and depression.

  1. You can observe that in society, certain people suffer from mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. This part is obvious.
  2. Why do people suffer these conditions? What causes them? This is one question which the scientific studies are trying to answer.
  3. I will list several common explanations for the cause of anxiety and depression which are being tested in scientific studies. “It is caused by stressful or traumatic life events”. “It is caused by a physiological dysfunction in the brain”. “It is caused by personality traits”. “It is caused by genetics”.
  4. And so the above explanations are what the scientific research is experimenting with.
  5. The general consensus, as listed on the “Beyond Blue” website is that anxiety and depression have complex and unknown causes, some of which may be personality, genetics, medical illness, drug abuse, and stressful life events.


So, now we can have a look at the questions they really asking in their research, and whether they are the right questions to be asking.

Firstly, they are asking “what life events cause mental illness?”. The biggest underlying false assumption is that events are the cause. This explains why the results of these studies are so complex. Of course there is no single life event which is correlated with anxiety or depression! Everyone’s life story is different!

Secondly, they are asking “What physiological dysfunction in the body could cause anxiety and depression?” The false assumption here is that anxiety and depression are caused by chemical changes in the brain. Yes it is true that people with these conditions have chemical changes in their brain, but this is a result of the disorder rather than the cause of it. If mental illness is caused by physical changes in the body then it would not make sense that people can recover from these illnesses after receiving counselling. I will elaborate on this in further posts.

Scientific research is also aimed at discovering the genetic factors involved in mental illness. I think this is excellent. But it is important to note that just because it is discovered that a disorder may be passed on genetically through families, this does not mean you have isolated the real cause of that condition. What caused your family to have it in the first place?

Lastly, they are asking “what personality traits could cause anxiety and depression?”. They are looking for “personality types” instead of “beliefs” as the cause of mental illness, not being aware that personality is a product of beliefs.

In order to find what all people who have either depression or anxiety have in common, which is the factor causing  their illness, all such people must be psychoanalysed. They must be psychoanalysed to find the common beliefs about life they hold which are responsible for the onset of their illness. Only in this way will the results of scientific studies trying to determine the cause of mental illness reveal more specific answers which make sense. This is what scientists are NOT currently doing. 

This is just one example of some reasoning behind why I do not agree with the current science on mental illness.



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