What makes my scepticism metre come alive when I read a projection like the one that 50 per cent of young adults experience a diagnosable episode of mental ill-health? (The Weekend Australian October 9-10 2010).
What is the source? And what are we defining as a mental illness? It’s like the oft-repeated suggestion that depression will be the biggest disease in the in the world by 2020. Jeff Kennett was fond of hawking that one. Again, what source? Based on what methodology? And what gets defined as mental illness? And isn’t it reasonable to ask why one pathology would be set to grow so dramatically? Why didn’t it grow at that rate in World War II or the Cold War?
Might it be that advocates are simply stretching the definition of mental illness. One U.S. pharmacy company has categorised shyness as a mental illness, brought forth a medicine to cure it and hired a football hero to spruik it and his own shyness on talk shows. (See Talking Back to Prozac in The New York Review of Books December 6, 2007). If shyness is being defined as mental illness then I’m sure we can reach that 50 per cent for young adults and reach it early.
Rod Cavalier as NSW Education Minister in the 80’s heard the disability lobby argue that one in 10 of school students suffered a disability. His curiosity pricked – it was a high figure after all – and he asked for a source, a survey, some research. There was none. Turned out that, repeated religiously, the one in 10 calculation was completely baseless.