The cure for the nation’s poor mental health? Teach philosophy at GCSE
Posted by barry-curtis
28th Nov 2018

It is often reported now that up to a quarter of adults suffer poor mental health. Even younger, one in four under 18s suffer poor mental health. Even the Confederation of British Industry have got involved, saying there needs to be more workplace counselling to stifle poor mental health amongst workers. With 1 in 3 American adults having had, at some time in their life, strong medication to combat a malady, the debate needs to be as wide open as possible to rectify the situation.

I have a radical solution: instead of counselling and therapeutics, convert the nation into a nation of philosophers.

1) Counselling and therapeutic talk rarely works. Even cognitive behavioural therapy, which is highly intrusive, rarely restores a patient’s ability to function to their prior-to-ill-health level, though it can patch up certain sore spots enough for them to get a job in Poundland. Enough of that rubbish! We need a stronger form of mental transformation that can allow an individual to regain full control of their lives to a degree that is STRONGER – yes, STRONGER – than before. For if their prior mental health was susceptible to illness, you need a STRONGER mental health that now isn’t.

2) The reason why conventional techniques don’t work is that they are far too simplistic, and ultimately a form of brainwashing. We are told “accept what you cannot change” and “feel good about yourself”, etc. This is rubbish when confronted with an objective problem. It is reminiscent, especially when combined with the multi-billion pharmaceuticals handed out to patients to make them feel better, to “soma” in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”, a story about a totalitarian dictatorship that secures acquiescence among the population by tranquilising them. Instead, humanism shows that the mind is multi-complex – any treatment that patronises us cannot work de facto. A half-hour session with a psychiatrist is arguably worse than watching an Australian soap.

3) Philosophy is the answer. When encountering some recent mental health problems, I asked myself why do I bother living when I regard society as in such a paltry state? One answer I came up with was because my parents would be devastated if I died. True, but insufficient. One cannot live as a burden of sacrifice – more is needed. So I came up with a better reason: BECAUSE I HAVE A COMPLEX MENTAL LIFE THAT IN ITSELF, IS MORALLY VALUABLE. This is what is lacking amongst the counsellors. They may talk the talk that “you are unique”, but why? Who knows they have a complex mental life that is intrinsically valuable within a cold universe? An education in philosophy can set up a dialogue within one’s own mind that confronts everything: not just the structures, like ‘religion’, ‘economy’, ‘law’, ‘politics’, but also the debates that surround them. One is able to bombard ideas around ad infinitum. Even if you don’t conclude anything, the internal debate shows you have a rich mental life. Even in a prison, or a psychiatric institution, one can still do philosophy, and thereby have a worthwhile life. Socrates said the “unexamined life is not worth living”. We can extend that and say in the modern era, “the unexamined life causes suffering”.

4) I acknowledge it is highly difficult for an individual, particularly one who is suffering poor mental health, to take up philosophy immediately. There is still a role for medication and counselling to provide a little bridge over the gulf. But developing the complexity of mental life really is the only way to avoid a massive tragedy – one’s mind must become highly complex and be able to bombard those ideas around, for which philosophy is the best educator. I recommend philosophy be taught at GCSE level, partly in order to prevent a lot of traps the individual may otherwise fall into. And adult courses must be available to all as well, at least prior to the time the whole nation has become more philosophical. The robust intellectual climate that will develop, full of well, confident individuals, will reduce the incidences of mental illnesses many times over.

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