An interview with Dr Terry Lynch (Part 1)

Why do you think mental health and mental health problems are such difficult areas for society to understand? In what way are attitudes changing in Ireland and across the globe?

There are a number of reasons why mental health and mental health problems are poorly understood within society. As a society (in keeping with most Westernised countries), we have made the fundamental error of judgement of believing that mental health problems are fundamentally biological in origin. This has not been established (for example, there are no physical or biological tests for any mental health problem, because the often-stated chemical and/or neurological abnormalities have not been proven or established). Yet because society’s appointed experts (principally, psychiatry) say that mental health problems are primarily biological in origin, people are at a loss to truly make sense of and understand mental health problems.

What is needed is a revision of our understanding of mental health and mental health problems, to include a far more comprehensive understanding of emotional and mental health, and mental health problems, than currently prevails. A key starting point is to understand why emotional and mental health problems make sense, how they can be understood. Pathologising human feelings and experiences is not necessarily the most productive way forward. It is also necessary to revise what we interpret to be normal and abnormal. This needs to be the platform from which emotional and mental health problems are responded to. In addition, stigma, fear and prejudice surrounds mental health and mental health problems. These issues would become far less and might indeed disappear if, as I outlined above, we had a far more comprehensive understanding of emotional and mental health, and emotional and mental health problems.

Regarding attitudes in Ireland and across the globe, one of the most striking developments in mental health worldwide including Ireland has been the growth of the mental health service user movement. This movement is gathering pace internationally and Ireland. This movement calls for a greater emphasis to be placed on recovery, on greater involvement of the service user in their own care decisions, on alternatives and other options to medication, on having choices, and on human values such as respect and dignity. I hope that this movement continues to grow, in strength and in number. In Ireland, the speed at which mental health policy changes nave been introduced over the past six years has been disappointing, only partly due of the recession

You have a strong focus on mental recovery. What are the main issues you meet as you campaign to raise awareness of mental wellbeing and how do you overcome them?

Strange as it may seem, there is considerable resistance and reluctance to properly address the issue of mental health recovery in Ireland, as in many other developed countries. Mental health recovery was a key recommendation of A Vision for Change, Ireland’s official mental health policy since 2006. I have been involved in A Vision for Change for the past 9 years, having been on the Expert Group on Mental Health Policy (2003-6) that formulated A Vision for Change, and having been on the Independent Monitoring Group (2006-12) that monitors the implementation of A Vision for Change. In each of the past six years, this Group has reported considerable disappointment at the lack of progress on mental health recovery within Irish mental health services.

A recurring issue I encounter is the belief that mental health problems are frequently considered to be life-long; once a person has had a serious mental problem, the presumption is often made that they now have a life long problem. I have regularly found that this often need not be the case. I have repeated found that what is fundamentally emotional distress is frequently misinterpreted, and repackaged, as mental illness. As a society, we really need to re-evaluate how we interpret and package emotional distress as mental illness. I use every opportunity I can to promote a more comprehensive and accurate understanding, of emotional distress and mental health.

You say the science of psychiatry needs to be questioned in detail, asking ‘where is the science to back up this biological of mental health module we operate?’. Where have your investigations led?

In the public interest, as a matter of considerable urgency, the science of psychiatry needs to be questioned in detail. For decades, psychiatrists and GPs have confidently informed their patients that their mental health problems are caused by known brain disorders, most commonly, by chemical imbalances in the brain. These statements have been made so frequently and for so long that the public have generally come to accept this as truth, as gospel. The truth is that chemical imbalances have not been identified for any mental health condition, including depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, despite what you may have heard about serotonin. Yet, no person ever has their supposed chemical imbalance confirmed by any test, ever, anywhere in the world. No such tests exist, because no chemical imbalances have been established. This is misinformation on a grand scale, something which should not be allowed or tolerated, particularly in a modern, well-educated and generally well-informed country such as Ireland.

Dr Terry Lynch will be speaking on Mental Wellness on Sunday, June 3rd at 2pm in the Arms Hotel.  (Part 2 of this interview will be posted in the next few days.)