Psychiatry could be fairly described as the practice of treating everything in life like a medical issue. The ignominious history of the field includes classifying as “diseases” such varied and personal behavior as sexual preference, masturbation, and political affiliation. These misconceptions led to the torture, imprisonment, and humiliation (euphemistically called “treatment”) of countless innocent people.
Yet, modern psychiatrists, along with the general public, stubbornly refuse to learn the lessons of the past, with new fake diseases popping up every year — to the detriment of human freedom.
The latest finding from the psychiatric profession is that the U.S. is experiencing an “epidemic of loneliness.” It’s being described as the latest public health crisis. Of course, this is true only by the loosest possible definition of public health, and continues a disturbing trend of treating common emotions or behaviors as if they are diseases.
Helped along in large part by Sigmund Freud’s influential work, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life,” the medical profession, and particularly psychiatrists, have continued to expand the bounds of their profession into the realm of distinctly inappropriate areas.
This matters for a number of reasons, from the misallocation of resources that could be better used elsewhere, to infringements on personal autonomy and responsibility enabled by collusion between doctors and the state.
A perfect example of the former comes from the CDC which, while genuine public health threats like Zika and Ebola rage on, direct their resources toward combating smoking, alcoholism, and teen pregnancy.
While there may be good reason to be concerned about all those things, there is a considerable difference between someone making the conscious choice to drink, smoke, or have sex, and the innocent victims of a deadly virus. Treating the former like the latter does no one any good, clouds thinking, and puts lives at risk.
On a more basic level, the so-called loneliness epidemic not only constitutes a gross misuse of the term “epidemic,” but paves the way for any number of state-sponsored interventions in our lives by misclassifying human behavior as illness. People are not afflicted by loneliness in the same way they are afflicted by, for example, leukemia. Loneliness is instead a product of lifestyle choices and attitude.
There is no doubt that humans are social animals, and a certain amount of connection to others is necessary for happiness. But merely being unhappy is not an “illness”; it is a problem in living that needs to be addressed on a personal, behavioral level.
When we treat the unhappy as if their emotional state qualifies them as the victims of mental malfunction, the logical next step is to impose “treatments” on them, whether they want them or not (in the same way we impose treatment on psychotics).
The mantra “for their own good” or, even worse, “for the sake of public health,” will be used to justify any state-imposed intervention into people’s lives. And it’s not hard to imagine mandatory socialization to prevent the disease of loneliness.
This will no doubt sound far-fetched to some, but it strikes particularly close to home for me. As the product of a homeschooling education, my parents were repeatedly subject to charges that they were depriving me and my sister of a healthy social life — an all too common, if misguided, worry about the practice of educating children in the home versus in a public, government-run facility.
Of course, the claim is utterly without merit. I had every opportunity to partake of the company of others, and in fact enjoyed a perfectly active social life. But if fears of loneliness as a public health issue become mainstream, it is likely we will see these arguments resurface as a justification of depriving parents of their rights, and forcing children into the more “social” environment of public schools, disregarding all the problems of drugs and violence that run rampant in those institutions.
The Declaration of Independence asserts that we all have the right to the pursuit of happiness, but happiness itself is not guaranteed, and how we go about pursuing it has to be left up to the individual.
If you are lonely, it is up to you to seek out companionship in whatever way suits your individual temperament. Failing this, there is nothing wrong with seeking professional help. But it is wholly inappropriate, not to say dangerous, for society at large to become concerned with our personal lives by labeling routine emotional states as diseases that threaten the public health.
Logan Albright is a researcher for Conservative Review and director of research for Free the People. You can follow him on Twitter @loganalbright73.