David Moyer: The greatest mass delusion of our time | TheUnion.com

David Moyer: The greatest mass delusion of our time

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David Moyer

Mental illness is front and center again as the nation struggles to come to grips with the recent school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead and almost as many wounded.

Pundits discuss the need to identify, treat and/or restrain high-risk individuals who have "mental issues."

Commentators suggest that an unspecified mental illness may have played a role in the massacre. According to news reports, the shooter had some contact with mental health professionals within a year of the tragedy. Having myself been a mental health care provider, I expect the intervention may have consisted of an interview to assess his symptoms, a diagnosis based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), talk therapy, medications, and, potentially, if he were considered to be a danger to himself or others, hospitalization.

When I worked with high-risk youth at the Nevada County Children's Mental Health, I saw individuals whose functioning was so impaired they could not form meaningful relationships. Their impairment was more than "mental." Their broken brains needed repairing.

When a person is referred for a mental health evaluation, the health-care provider may inform him that he is depressed because he has one of the subtypes of depressive disorder. He may tell him he is anxious due to an anxiety disorder, or that his mood swings are from bipolar disorder. The patient then thinks he knows what is wrong with him. He has a mental disorder. These so-called "mental disorders" are merely groups of similar symptoms resulting from the interplay of individual-specific biological, environmental and genetic factors, many of which can be biologically diagnosed and treated during a child's development.

Researchers have found links between the following and violent behavior: nutritional deficiencies, exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, electromagnetic frequencies, genetic abnormalities, low-level heavy metal toxicities such as lead and mercury, brain tumor, excessively high copper levels, antidepressant medications and infections such as Lyme disease and C. pneumonia.

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For example, infections may cause obsessive thoughts, such as being a "professional school shooter." My first book, "Nutrients Quiet the Unquiet Brain," discussed some biological factors that may have influenced Timothy McVeigh to bomb the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It also discussed factors that may have contributed to Scott Thorpe's murderous behavior at Nevada County Behavioral Health Services in 2001. The standard of care does not usually rule out relevant biological factors.

Over time, humans have evolved different theories to explain destructive behavior. In Western civilization, such behavior was blamed on sin, a word that, in the original Bible language means missing the mark or target. Adam, Eve and their son Cain, who killed his brother Abel "sinned" because of sin. In other words, they missed the mark because they missed the mark. Florida Gov. Rick Scott described the shootings as "pure evil." Using a kind of circular logic, he blamed it on evil.

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, believed that imbalances in the four humors; blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm cause various abnormal behaviors. Adjusting those imbalances would reduce the dysfunction.

In 1796, German physician Franz Gall developed phrenology. He claimed he could identify which indentations and protrusions of the skull were correlated with criminal and other behaviors. After World War II, when Belgium took over Rwanda from the Germans, their scientists "discovered" through phrenology that the Hutus were racially superior to the Tutsis, contributing to the dominance of the Hutus and, in part, decades later to the massacre of 800,000 Tutsis.

Whether we invoke sin, humors, skull shape or "mental issues" to explain violent behavior, we are involved in a "name and blame" game. The commonly understood mental disorders are not mental disorders.

Read the introduction to the DSM-5. They are syndromes. They should be the starting point for diagnosis, not the endpoint.

I believe the greatest mass delusion of our time, "mental illness," prevents adequate diagnosis and treatment. When health-care professionals accept that mental illness is a mass delusion, then the integration of gastroenterology, neurology, immunology, infectious disease medicine, toxicology and psychiatry can begin.

"Curing" the mental illness delusion will usher in personalized care which will improve assessment, treatment and management of potential school shooters.

To quote Plato, circa 300 BC, "The greatest mistake in the treatment of disease is that there are physicians for the body and physicians for the soul, although the two cannot be separated."

David Moyer, Lt. Col USAF, LCSW, retired, lives in Penn Valley.