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

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  1,120 ratings  ·  87 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 "It is no exaggeration to state that Szasz's work raises major social issues which deserve the attention of policy makers and indeed of all informed and socially consciou ...more
Paperback, 297 pages
Published November 10th 1984 by Harper (first published 1961)
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Oct 06, 2013 is currently reading it
"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 stigmatiza
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
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.
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.
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
Tiago Faleiro
Sep 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, 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
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
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
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
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
May 15, 2010 rated it did not like it
I find this book extremely troubling and somewhat irresponsible.
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
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
Szasz departs from the idea that mental illnesses are no more than strategic categories invented to stigmatize persons with peculiar behaviors but with no underlying physical abnormalities. He uses this as an unquestionable premise and never bothers to back it up, leaving me utterly confused as I have never encountered any case of mental disorder that is unaccompanied by some kind of bodily 'disorderliness', be it directly in the brain or in the immune or digestive systems. I realize the book is ...more
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.
Jul 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Game-changer for psychology---another classic book for the field.
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.
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.
Mar 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Tough read but so worth it. Full of juicy psychological vocabulary and insightful one-liners. This book is a gem and fully convincing when it comes to the thesis that mental illness is a myth.
Jorge Rodighiero
Jan 31, 2018 rated it liked it
It had good ideas, but I feel none were developed to the degree needed
Oct 15, 2017 rated it did not like it
I can't finish this book. I thought it would involve insightful, valid criticisms of the institute of psychiatry, and while at the start I could entertain some of the concepts even though I disagree with them - such as the idea that medicine for profit will somehow improve care and strengthen therapeutic relationships (ignoring the massive inequality in standards of care - or even basic provision of care - that this would lead to), and the fact the arguments are based on a fundamentally dualisti ...more
Laszlo F.
Apr 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is often misinterpreted and many picture Szasz as a denier of psychiatric illnesses or even psychiatry itself. That is however not true - his goal was to save, not to condemn the psychiatric science that in the early ages (he even goes back to 19th century examples!) suffered from many ethical problems, and unfortunately still often employs wrong diagnostic practices.
The issue is very similar to what statistics face with the significance-problem, as false positive or false negative dia
Jul 29, 2018 rated it did not like it
Yikes. Not at all what I expected. Extremely abstract, esoteric, and philosophical. It was likely a much more relevant and ground-breaking criticism of psychiatry at the time it was written, but (luckily) now much of the information seems quite obvious (e.g., psychiatrists should not have paternalistic attitudes toward patients but should treat them as equals, with dignity and respect, and work collaboratively with them on their “problems with living”). But the points were definitely not persuas ...more
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
My issue with this book is that the argument just doesn't hold up anymore. When this book was written, there was not the medical imaging technology and understanding that we have today. With modern technology, we can view sections of the brain reacting in real time. We can see how the brains of people with typically developing brains differ from atypical brains.

I can agree that court ordered treatment robs a person of their rights and that more professionals need to understand that. However, in
Brad Gomez
I wasn't quite intelligent enough to keep up with this book. There's an old rule my S/O uses with her students "if you don't know 3 words on a page, it isn't quite yet the book for you" Needless to say, I took that advice!

Although, skimming through, most parts controversial and slightly subjective; I felt it was a good read for its intended purpose. The book has many examples and studies(although no evidence really concrete. It is confirming for those of us that consider mental illness a person

Sep 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Revolutionary for the times it was written in, this book is still overly dense and academic. It is less accessible to the modern reader, even a highly educated one in the field, because much of the terminology has fallen into disuse or taken on new meanings. The reader must be consistently attuned to the social context in which the book was first written. Overall, I would recommend other books and articles before this one to a modern reader interested in better understanding issues of corruption ...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.
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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

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