Medicine and Mental Illness

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K272 TMA01

Consider the usefulness of a holistic model in explaining the experience of mental health.

A holistic approach to mental illness means that the user’s physical, mental and spiritual health along with the user s state of mind, lifestyle and social factors will all be taken into consideration when analysing them.

Holism refers to treating the whole person. This means that holism feels disease doesn’t just affect the body, but also the mind and spirit as well. It’s said that the five dimensions are all inter related and so if one is c hanged then the other dimensions will all be impacted in some way or another. In a sense I feel that holism is practical as it explores several avenues in order to treat mental illness rather than the bio-medical approach which uses only one.

The World Health Organisation (1946), define health in the following way ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity’. This definition of health supports both the medical and social models. In suggesting that wellbeing is the key to health the definition embraces the idea that in the treatment of illness all factors, social, mental and physical must be taken into account. If this definition is what professional’s base their treatment of mental health upon, then it could be seen that the medical and holistic models are intertwined and should in fact work in harmony. Yet one model holds dominance over the other. It is the medical model which is predominantly used in the treatment of mental health (Bentall, 2003)

The Biomedical Model

The bio medical model evolved as a response to diseases in the 19th century. German psychiatrists then used this model, based on their beliefs and not hard evidence, to categorize the symptoms of mental distress into distinct conditions, one of which was Schizophrenia (Bentall, 2003).The model suggests that mental health is an illness, characterised by specific symptoms that have a pathological base. This came about because research supported the notion that mental ill health was due to chemical imbalances, body dysfunction or injury (McCullough et al, 2005, Pritchard, 2006). However there is another suggestion that mental health is a hypothetical construct” (Boyle, 2002: 14).

The fundamental focus of this model is that the individual is the source of their mental illness. Therefore the person can be treated and as with most illness the medical model will look at medication as the way forward (Beresford, 2005). Within this model the body is seen as a device rather than a person and as an appliance its functions will often need repair (Giddens, 2006).This thought process is damaging, it can encourage a poor relationship. When the ‘person’ becomes lost and is seen as a list of symptoms, they become stigmatised and labelled. This labelling can cause further mental distress and so more ‘symptoms’ may be seen (Thompson, 2006).

The medical model sees mental illness as a brain malfunction, an imbalance, a set of symptoms, to restore mental health the medical experts will endeavour to adjust the imbalances with a variety of drugs. The use of drugs often does give a quick fix to some symptoms; however the use often creates a dependence, which may last until death (Harris et al, 2007). This dependence on drugs will give further credence to the medical model. Many researchers point out that this reliance on medication causes further mental distress, as the side effects can be many and enduring, adding further problems to those with a diagnosis of mental illness(Wallcraft, 2005,Usher et al, 2006).

The Holistic Model

As we know the holistic model is not the most popular model, it is however very important as it represents a way of thinking and understanding mental distress and gives a positive approach to working with and supporting people experiencing mental illness.

Each person’s experience of mental illness is unique....
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