Prominent philosopher shares thoughts on mental health and addiction

Jul 30, 2018

As there is a growing response to better handle mental health, we spoke with a prominent philosopher from New York University, who explains some of what causes 'mental breakdowns'.  Professor Jerome Wakefield is in Buffalo where he attend UB's philosophy event called the Romanell Conference.  WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says Wakefield offers his views on the mental health crisis and addiction.

"A lot of what we call mental breakdowns may be normal reactions of stress that are impairing us,” Wakefield described.

Professor Jerome Wakefield visited our WBFO studio.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Wakefield serves as a professor in New York University's Silver School of Social work. He's also a professor of conceptual foundations of psychiatry at NYU's School of Medicine. He tells WBFO News clearly our mental health is being jeopardized by society pressures and a digital world as we are trying to adapt to an environment we were never biologically designed to handle.

"In the quest for better life and in the quest for a consumer economy – selling goods and enticing people to eat certain things, do certain things, watch certain things - so they're productive and some people can’t handle the level of demand that is on us today that’s rather unnatural as well as some other people can. That’s a large part of this stress. When things get to the point where something goes wrong inside, where it’s not even dependent on the environment anymore and you’re just always in a state of stress-out or anxiety or depression, irrespective of whether things are going well or badly in your life – then that’s a sign you’ve developed some kind of eternal dysfunction – something gone wrong with your eternal function,” Wakefield stated.  

Wakefield explains human beings vary in every psychological trait. He presented a key note address over the weekend called the 'Nature of Addiction'.  Wakefield said philosophers are thinking about the ‘nature of the problem’ such as the opioid crisis.  

Professor Jerome Wakefield visited our WBFO studio.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“The official position, right now, of the National Institute of Health, National Institute of Drug Abuse, National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse  -  they all call addiction a brain disease – in a sense – one might say it is – in a sense – but it’s very tricky because everything that human beings are is reflected in something in the brain, so just to say we're exploring the brain and we see things lightning up in the brains of addicts when they think about a substance, let’s say, doesn’t prove anything about there being a brain disease. What it may prove is that this person has an enormous commitment to, love of and involvement in this particular activity or is it something else. Is it just a choice? There’s a lot of people today in the social sciences who like to think economically about rational people – that everybody is rational and the system can be explained as rational entities interacting, so they have theories of addiction being people making choices given their circumstances,” noted Wakefield.

Wakefield reminds us stress, anxiety or depression – all signs of an internal dysfunction creates mental disorders, but that no one should be ashamed and instead should seek help.