As I was hurriedly preparing to leave for a trip to London, I opened up a letter from my health provider which outlined some new provisions on the basis of Timothy"s Law. Timothy's Law was named for the late Timothy O'Clair of Schenectady, who took his own life in 2001 at age 12. His family had limited mental-health coverage and had to give up custody of Timothy so he would qualify for state-paid treatment.
Increasingly we are presented with laws named after children who are victims and it can seem that on first glance these are sensible measures to resolve problems or issues we face. In the cases where tragic deaths have occurred due to pedophilia, as Mick Hume argues in the UK Times this does nothing to prevent future attacks but everything to enhance our fears. So too with the continual expansion of the definition of mental health, that now leads us to suggest that a a quarter of the population suffers from 'mental disorders'. This is a terrible indictment on how our therapeutic-minded culture is increasingly redefining every day human situations in to some variation of 'psychological trauma'. So many things get included in the definition of mental disorder that one wonders if there is much left in the human vernacular that is not definable as being a mental health issue.
Like 'stress' which was stolen from an engineering term to do with bridges entirely unrelated to anything medical, our increased tendency to define our experiences this way leads inevitably to the conclusion that if it is mental health which is the problem, we then need therapists, psychologists and doctors to intervene and resolve.
Of course, it is no longer fashionable to discuss things like better wages, improved working conditions, new houses for the world's population as that requires politics to convince people to fight for and have some plans as to how to make happen. Instead, it is far easier to declare that poverty leads to mental health issues, or homework, bullying, too much sex, too little sex, drinking, eating....in fact pretty much most things we do. Then, the solution of course becomes a bit of therapy, or some drugs to ameliorate the inner 'trauma' (another platitude that is banded around promiscuously with little attention to the meaning of the word). Seldom though, are we presented with questions as to how we are redefining our understanding of what our problems are and what should be done about them.
So what? Well, the definition since the Enlightenment, with the Founding Fathers in the USA and the French Revolution in Europe - which held the idea of autonomous citizens as being a necessary component of democracy - is being eroded. It is being replaced with the pernicious notion of us adults as needing therapeutic intervention from professional third parties. Take the Valium, or Soma, but heaven forbid you get angry and try and change the situation.
The easy accusation here is that I am, as are all skeptics, 'in denial'. This is a lovely little tautological tool that acts as a silencer of criticism. Unfortunately, the example of 'Timothy's Law' is an example of everything that is wrong with our current thinking. It is entirely understandable that parents and the public will be incensed by the tragic story of Timothy and his family. However, if we want better health resources, we should have a strategy to get them - not use the tragic case of a suicide juvenile to achieve this. Even worse perhaps, is the fact that this tragedy is then used to promote the availability of resources, but in the category of mental illness. The quid pro quo is that if you want the use of some resources, you by definition have to claim to be suffering from mental health problems.
This is a vicious cycle where we see kids being handed out medications on summer camps and schools in shocking numbers over recent years and at some point we need to stop this mad way of doing things.
Like most fashions that have emerged from the USA, they have been appropriated and spread quickly internationally. So, as I arrived in England, I switched on the car radio only to be told in a commercial that one in four Britons will suffer 'from some kind of mental illness in their lifetime'. The 'solution' to this is seen in terms of counseling, therapy and drugs.
It may seem as though the claims are coming from below, from ordinary people, for the expansion of these services - and the use of the emotive names, such as 'Timothy's Law' are evocative and difficult to criticize for fear of being accused of disrespect. However, this is far too important of an issue to be silenced on. Interestingly, as Brendan O Neill, editor of the UK political website Spiked-Online points out in The UK Guardian's Comment is free, few of the mobilizations around the issues of pedophilia or other emotive campaigns, are enacted from below. Rather, they are a consequence having been motivated from the elite. They are generally, as he puts it,
...started, and...sustained, by government officials, police officers, social workers, leftwing activists, children's charities and both the broadsheet and tabloid press.
Britain has excelled in taking some of the most outrageous aspects of US developments (with child care in particular) and expanded them even further (such as the Safeguarding Vulnerable Persons Bill).
Once of course they said that the British had a 'stiff upper lip' and Americans had a 'tough guy' attitude, it was, like any cliché worn and sometimes silly. However, the idea that stoicism and being strong should now be redefined as being 'in denial' - and that our social problems are really psychological problems is a serious problem for anyone who is interested in addressing the way things are in the world.
Timothy's Law sadly is not a step forward for us, in spite of the fact it may seem that way, as there will be some more categories for medical care. We are increasingly redefining the human condition in to one that is at risk and in need of therapeutic intervention.
It seems to me we need to challenge this nasty development. The alternative seems truly mad.