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The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  957 ratings  ·  71 reviews
A classic work that has revolutionized thinking throughout the Western world about the nature of the psychiatric profession and the moral implications of its practices. "Bold and often brilliant."-- "Science" "Bold and often brilliant." "--Science" "It is no exaggeration to state that Szasz's work raises major social issues which deserve the attention of policy makers and ...more
Paperback, 297 pages
Published November 10th 1984 by Harper (first published 1961)
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3.81  · 
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 ·  957 ratings  ·  71 reviews

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Owlseyes inside Notre Dame, it's so strange a 15-hour blaze and...
"In 1938 when I came to the United States, there were 13 epileptic colonies in the country, housing tens of thousands of inmates"
In "Cruel compassion" by Thomas Szasz

This, for sure , will ever be a must-read. I know some of the strong arguments [points] of doctor Szasz:

1-Diagnosis is a tool used by psychiatrists to control and stigmatize people.

2-Hysteria and misbehavior and attention deficit disorder...are not diseases; thyphoid fever is,....spring fever is not.

3-Labeling is a stigmatizati
May 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you think this book is dangerous then I'm not sure you understood it.
Nov 23, 2009 rated it liked it
Seen in the best possible light, this is a well-read, illuminating presentation of a relativistic theory of cultural norms. The author says that those who break these norms, the "mentally ill," do so for certain reasons, usually because it benefits them to do so. Classifying them as "mentally ill" creates a model in which it is easier for them to continue being "sick". Instead, they should be treated as competent adults who can change their lives for the better. By way of illustration, the autho ...more
Thom Dunn
Roy Porter discusses Szasz in the opening pages of his "Madness: A Brief History". Amazon has NO hardcover in stock. Zero. Zip.

For my part ? "He jests at scars that never felt a wound." @ Szasz : Here is my curse on you, Thomas: May you suffer ten minutes of acute clinical depression. Ten minutes in that "over-heated room", that "bell-jar", that "bed of nails" which we sufferers know when the nerve synapses in the basal ganglia are leeched of neurotransmitters through a too-rapid re-uptake of s
Mar 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I've read three of Szasz's books and will limit myself to commenting about this one, which is both outdated at some points and still far too radically ahead of its time to be considered fairly today by many (particularly including those whose income depends on perpetuating these very myths or whose sense of self-worth is somehow tied up in them).

To simplify some of Dr. Szasz's ideas that I find appealing:

1) We need to be very skeptical about the entire concept of "mental illness" and the practic
Michael Burnam-Fink
Dec 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011, academic, medicine
Szasz makes a frontal assault on the power of psychiatry, arguing that mental illness is a myth and that the power accorded to psychiatrists to decide if people are legally responsible for their actions, have them committed to hospitals, and prescribe various psychotropic medications is fundamentally misfounded. The basic premise of his argument is that only organs can be sick, and the mind is not an organ. Rather, what we see as mental illness are the results of rule-breaking behavior by "menta ...more
Apr 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Incredibly eye opening book. Shows how the majority of "mental illnesses", except those of clear neurological basis, are not illnesses at all. Mental illness is a metaphor. This isn't to say that what we normally refer to as "mental illness" doesn't exist, clearly these many psychological experiences do exist...but they are not genuine illnesses and when they are assumed to be this can lead to profound misunderstanding.
Nov 19, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: psychology, science
I read this in college for "Human Health and Behavior" class. The seminar that ensued was lively! The author makes some valid points, but they are enshrined in an extreme and fundamentalist tone, which was alienating and made it difficult to fully endorse his ideas. In addition, he is not a very skilled writer, so it takes a lot of effort to uncover his points. I hope to re-read this soon and revise this review, but for now I can only give the book 2 stars.
Jan 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
One can usually find some redeeming qualities in any book, yet this made me struggle to even do that much. I have determined this to be a convoluted piece of garbage. Please don't waste your time or money on a book that does not belong in your archive but rather in the trashcan. Time is precious, so please spend it making memories with family and friends rather than reading tripe from a misinformed, hippy "psychiatrist."

This particular book only furthered my desire to research and uncover the t
May 15, 2010 rated it did not like it
I find this book extremely troubling and somewhat irresponsible.
Tiago Faleiro
Sep 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
Szasz argues viewing psychiatry as a medical speciality is misleading. In fact, the very concept of mental illness is incoherent. Disease is defined by a physical pathology, but if one has a brain lesion, then by definition it's part of neurology. Psychiatry is by its nature what doesn't belong to neurology. Mental illness is a metaphor that became so ingrained that people take it literally.

A large part of the book is dedicated on how mental illnesses are categorized, and its inherent social fa
Oct 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
I think Thomas Szasz is a brilliant person. He's written lots of books during his career, but this one started it all. He questions and criticizes our society's perception and treatment of mental illness with no reservations. I believe his work has been a positive force in reforming psychiatry, but there's still plenty left that can be improved. I plan to re-read this book someday, and I'd like to read more of his books too.

I remember very clearly finding this book in the BYU library and how cap
William Adams
Sep 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Spring fever is not really a fever, homesickness is not really sickness, and mental illness is not really illness. That’s the argument of Thomas Szasz, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the State University of New York in Syracuse. He has been repeating and elaborating that message since publication of his iconoclastic book in 1961.

A fiftieth anniversary reissue has a new preface and two essays published in 1997 and 2006. The essays, “Mental Illness is Still a Myth,” and “Defining Disease,” r
Andre Graham
Apr 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
I don't think that I can add anything that other reviewers have written more eloquently than I about this book. However there are a few points I'd like to make:
Modern psychiatry is a minefield of mixed positive and negative motives, methods and outcomes. To be totally for or against it ( as szas is against) seems to be incredibly naive. Szas seems to be trapped in asserting and repeating his view that medical illness doesn't exist and whereas he does point out compelling facts such as the arbit
Aug 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“There is no blood or other biological test to ascertain the presence or absence of a mental illness, as there is for most bodily diseases. If such a test were developed…then the condition would cease to be a mental illness and would be classified, instead, as a symptom of a bodily disease.” —Dr. Thomas Szasz, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, New York University Medical School, Syracuse

Also, I thought this would be relevant. These are from a recent United Nations report:

86. An assessment of the
Jorge Rodighiero
Jan 31, 2018 rated it liked it
It had good ideas, but I feel none were developed to the degree needed
Stefan Matias
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In the investigation into what constitutes and underlies the so-called 'mental illness' in modern psychology and psychiatry, Szasz doesn't just go on to describe why mental illness isn't an adequate category for the treatment of these problems but also goes in-depth as to what rules and games our everyday lives are determined by. Biological, religious/legislative and interpersonal rules determine how we act, and also those ruling the particular games we operate in. First, he writes on the histor ...more
Apr 24, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology
This is essentially two different books. The first half is dedicated to an indictment to the medical model of psychiatry. He believes that by medicalizing psychiatry, it has removed the moral component of behavior. The second half, he develops a theory of hysteria that assumes that the symptoms that hysterics exhibit are a form of non-verbal communication and can be analyzed as a form of communication like dreams. That is the interesting part of the book.
Nov 27, 2011 rated it liked it
I'm reading a chapter from 1960 edition, it bothered me so much as Szasz put forward those "self-evident" justifications. He made his point in regarding mental illness as "problems in living". But I doubted the practicability of an argument over the concept itself and the implication of his idea to clinical settings at all.
David Tenemaza Kramaley
Apr 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Szasz offers many interesting points making for an interesting read at times, however, he falls extremely short in covering all the complex cases of 'problems in living' that may be encountered (and their potential reasons!). Still, I think he offers an interesting new approach that may perhaps hold some of the answers we are looking for.
Dec 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Heavy going and a challenging read but definitely worth it. Very interesting though naturally somewhat dated in its propositions. It was originally published in 1961 so things have of course moved on since then! He was one of the first to start questioning the status quo and it is therefore still an important text.
Jan 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
'Strictly speaking, disease or illness can affect only the body; hence, there can be no mental illness.'
'Personal conduct is always rule-following, strategic, and meaningful.'
'There is no medical, moral or legal justification for involuntary psychiatric interventions. They are crimes against humanity.'

Jul 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Szasz has influenced many thinkers as a result of this piece. A must read for critical thinkers in the realms of social constructionism.
Mark Desrosiers
May 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psycho-sociology
Bane of emotional cop-outs, ammunition for stoics. In any case, he's right.
Jan 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book had just a few items that weren't completely out of date. Interesting book if you're looking for past work regarding mental health and therapy.
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Szasz presents an interesting idea, the extension of which I embrace - that mental illness is not merely a biological phenomenon.
Jan 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
A classic, must read.
Jul 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Game-changer for psychology---another classic book for the field.
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Went in highly skeptical and came out questioning some of my beliefs and being reaffirmed in others. Still overall disagree with the author but he's a good writer and a smart dude.
David Champion
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent and well-written book in which the notion of mental illness is rationally debunked. There is just behaviour, that is all. The book also offers some stunning insights into our minds.
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Thomas Stephen Szasz (pronounced /sas/; born April 15, 1920 in Budapest, Hungary) was a psychiatrist and academic. He was Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the State University of New York Health Science Center in Syracuse, New York. He was a prominent figure in the antipsychiatry movement, a well-known social critic of the moral and scientific foundations of psychiatry, and of the social contro ...more
“It taught me, at an early age, that being wrong can be dangerous, but being right, when society regards the majority’s falsehood as truth, could be fatal.” 36 likes
“It seems to me that-at least in our scientific theories of behavior-we have failed to accept the simple fact that human relations are inherently fraught with difficulties and that to make them even relatively harmonious requires much patience and hard work.” 17 likes
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