Thomas Szasz, M.D. died on September 8, 2012 at the ripe old age of 92. He was a pioneer in the field of making us rethink what we mean when we say someone is “mentally ill.” Is it really a purely physical disease, or is it part physical, part social construct?
And if it’s partly a social construct (and, to be honest, it is), it must be subjective. We’ve all simply agreed that this set of symptoms = mental illness. Keep in mind that his theories were based with our knowledge of mental illness in the 1950s and 1960s — a time when our understanding of mental illness was truly in its infancy. At that time, mental disorders truly were quite arbitrarily defined.
While many associate Szasz with the anti-psychiatry movement, that’s a label he never was comfortable with. It also over-simplifies his complex and nuanced views about mental illness as one of the most vocal critics of psychiatry.