Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 5, No 2 (2009)

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What makes “a mental illness?” What makes “a new mental illness”?: The cases of solastalgia and hubris syndrome.

Seamus P MacSuibhne

Abstract


What is a “mental illness”? What is an “illness”? What does the description and classification of “mental illnesses” actually involve, and is the description of “new” mental illnesses description of actually existing entities, or the creation of them?  “Solastalgia” is a neologism, invented by the Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht, to give greater meaning and clarity to psychological distress caused by environmental change (Albrecht et al 2007) The concept received some coverage in the international mass media in late 2007 (Thompson, 2007) Much of this described solastalgia as “a new concept in mental illness”, a description endorsed by Albrecht himself. The doctor and former British Foreign Secretary, Lord Owen, has coined the phrase “hubris syndrome” to describe the mindset of prime ministers and presidents whose behaviour is characterised by reckless, hubristic belief in their own rightness. This paper uses both the concept of solastalgia and the related concepts Albrecht posited of psychoterratic and somaterratic illnesses and hubris syndrome as a starting point to explore issues around the meaning of mental illness, and what it means to describe and classify mental illness. These issues illustrated tensions between natural and social philosophy, with the nature and status of psychiatry as a scientific, “value-free” enterprise or a humanistic, “value-laden” one discussed. Should “the distress caused by environmental change” be deemed a mental illness? Could it thereby included in catalogues of mental illnesses such as DSM-IV and ICD-10? The process whereby the psychiatric establishment defines and categorises mental illness is described, and as well as examining whether solastalgia and hubris syndrome meets these criteria, those criteria  are compared to more critical views of psychiatry and the nature of mental illness. The approaches of Szasz, Boorse, Fulford, Canguilhem and other thinkers to issues related to mental illness are discussed. Finally it is suggested that the language of mental illness is increasingly used for rhetorical purposes, and that caution should be exercised in extending the label of illness to the phenomena of solastalgia and hubris syndrome.


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