What Is Mental Illness?

  • Hoyle Leigh


Mental illness is usually defined as conditions that interfere with the sense of well-being or function of the individual. Some have equated the lack of a sense of well-being, or unhappiness, per se, with mental illness with presumed biological underpinnings. Others have emphasized the role of societal power structure as the origins of unhappiness. Unhappiness may be seen to be a universal condition arising from the experience of powerlessness as children and of continuing powerlessness of the individual and the masses vis-a-vis the powerful societal forces such as conformity, as well as symptoms of a biologically/genetically determined individual vulnerability. There is a continuum of unhappiness. For example, sadness may be situational, transient, and normal or may be a part of depressive syndrome requiring definitive treatment. In each culture and subculture, there are prevalent memes that represent how a person behaves or feels given a psychiatric condition. We likened mental health to a well-functioning memetic democracy in the brain in which there is an overall sense of coherence while there is competition and tolerance of different memes within it. In a democracy, there is always debate and tension; thus reasoned argument, persuasion, and compromise are essential in conflict resolution. Developmental task can be conceptualized as the integration of newly introduced and newly arising memes with the needs of unfolding genes. Neurosis denotes a state of the brain where the mutually incompatible and conflicting memes have not found a workable modus vivendi, where workable democracy has not developed. When the brain lacks sufficiently powerful reasoning ability (the ability to manipulate the memes), or when competing memes are intransigent and are unable to reach an agreed-upon course of action based on compromise, then the conflict may become irresolvable and severe anxiety ensues. Some individuals have a tyrannical selfplex that is severely repressive because it is very fragile and constantly in a state of threatened overthrow. The subversive selfplex in such a brain may be an even more repressive and depressive one, a repository of all unacceptable and derogatory memes. When such a fragile selfplex is overturned through new meme infusion (e.g., failure memes) under stress, this may trigger a meme-driven genetic cascade resulting in a final common pathway depressive syndrome. Final common pathway psychiatric syndromes are serious conditions reflecting a pathologic brain state that, without treatment, results in an autonomous course and often chronic outcome.


Mental Illness Eating Disorder Child Welfare System Depressive Syndrome Native Youth 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSan FranciscoUSA

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