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Mental Health II: Environmental Factors

    Yesterday I talked about the physical aspect of mental illness. Specifically, how innate factors, like our brain's anatomy, do not "cause" mental illness per se, but set certain rules and limitations that must be observed so that our mental faculties can be properly maintained. Today I will talk about the nature of environmental factors, their relationship to mental health, and to free will.

    Life is essentially a process of constant interaction between the living organism and its environment. Whether we're talking about food, light, warmth, or mental stimuli, to live is to interact with our surroundings, identifying and making use of the available resources to promote our life. Resources, however, are hardly ever a "perfect fit" for the organism that uses it, and their very use often comes with a cost. 

    Drinking water from a river will quench one's thirst, but it will also bring bacteria and other undesirable entities into one's body, which have to be dealt with - in fact, dealing with them is the very purpose of our excretive and immune systems. This cost and benefit analysis is a constant of life itself, and although there are certain absolutes (drinking cyanide will certainly kill you), it usually varies with the specific nature of the organism and the options available to it.

    The specific makeup of a person will shape its relationship to different resources. While some find milk to be an ideal source of fat and protein, others have a lactose intolerance - which, in turn, can range from a mild indigestion to severe nausea. The same is true of mental stimuli - the same extreme tension of a battlefield that causes PTSD in many, is actually pleasurable to some professional soldiers.

    One's political and economic context is also essential in defining their specific environmental trade-offs, and consequently their mental health. Someone with a mild lactose intolerance would have no reason to drink milk in a modern capitalistic society, where resources are plenty. Move that person to a hellhole like Venezuela, however, and that glass of milk starts looking really tasty, really fast, despite its side-effects.

    A good example of the environment's role in defining one's mental health can be found in an old fashioned psychiatry term, now wiped out due to PC culture: relative stupidity. Relative stupidity refers to a borderline condition of below-average intelligence. If the person lives a life that does not require a lot of intellectual activity, such as a small farmer in a rural area, their intelligence will suffice - they will be able to support themselves financially, socialize properly, and live happy lives. Put that same person in the intense routine of a big city center however, where the mere act of walking down the street subjects one to a plethora of stimuli, and their lives will be drastically different. They will not be able to provide for themselves by means of the more complex jobs available, will likely be socially marginalized, and will inevitably become depressed.

    Mental illness thus, can be properly conceptualized as a "psychological allergy" to certain stimuli. One's physical and psychic structures determines their "allergies", but it is the exposure to situations that one isn't equipped to handle that causes the suffering. In some cases, the illness is absolute - being incapable of basic logical integration or social interaction is the equivalent of an allergy to water or air. More often than not, however, they are relative, and treatment is less about medication and procedures than it is about finding a proper routine, and planning one's life according to their identity.

  -  July 8th, 2020