Deconstructing "mental health" & "mental illness"

Updated: 7 days ago

Here is an outline of the talk I gave on the topic, The Second Mind: Deconstructing the Idea of "Mental Health" and "Mental Illness". The full video is at the end of this post.


  • Opening points

  • We are deconstructing the idea of "mental health" and "mental illness".

  • We are not negating, minimizing, or romanticizing the reality of suffering.

  • Suffering is real. The interpretation of suffering as “mental illness” is a choice based on many factors.

  • The change in perspective and education I’m suggesting is not one that can happen overnight. If you are under the care of a professional or have a care plan established, please do not make sudden changes based on what you learn here. Rather, if you find this meaningful, discuss this with those who you trust and are knowledgeable.


  • Why do we interpret certain kinds of suffering as “mental illness”?

  • Our society has poor education in the mind and therefore poor insight, which leads to helplessness. (The answer is not to apply a label of "illness", but rather to understand the mind and facilitate integration.)

  • Our society is not consistently compassionate, so applying a label of "illness" can help some to express compassion. (We should not to label suffering as illness to express compassion. This is more a commentary on our society than on suffering.)

  • Medicalizing suffering supports the practice and industry of diagnosing and treating suffering in many ways, despite the fact the we have a poor understanding of the mind.


  • Stigma

  • We create the interpretation of “mental illness” then try to de-stigmatize “mental illness”. There is a reason it is a stigma. It is because there is a lack of understanding of the mind on the part of professionals leading to helplessness and fear in the general public. The solution for the stigma is for professionals and educators to simply to drop the phrase "mental illness" and associated diagnostic labels instead of holding onto it. Instead, simply use the descriptive words that those who are experiencing difficulties are using.

  • "Mental health" sounds better than "mental illness" because nobody likes the word illness, yet "mental health" it is just as vague. "Mental health" movements say we must take care of ourselves, but they generally fail to say the most important points: "We don't know what the mind is. We need to find out. Here is our plan to find out more." There is a lack of awareness of the problem and lack of accountability on display. Good intentions must be informed by insight. The existence of a vague entity called "mental health" ensures the persistence of a vague entity called "mental illness".

  • Deconstructing these non-medical concepts can unmask feelings hopelessness, fear, anger, and even violence, both on the part of those suffering and on the part of those diagnosing because it threatens identity. It threatens the idea that we know what is happening. (We certainly can help and can know more. It is not hopeless.)


  • Reminder: Suffering is real. The interpretation of suffering as “mental illness” is a choice based on many factors.


  • What is the Second Mind?

  • The Second Mind is the mind which appears as matter, just as your mind appeared as the world of dream-matter in your last dream.

  • The Second Mind is an experience of another mental configuration, consistent with the philosophies of advaita vedanta and objective idealism, which shifts the experience of identity along the spectrum of local - localizing - non-local.

  • Please see other content on anoopkumar.com to learn more about the Second Mind.


  • My story

  • My story is not an example for others to follow. The choices I made may not be the best choices in most cases. They are simply being used to illustrate certain points made here.

  • In my 20's there was reconfiguration of the mind that took place, which took over 10 years to process and integrate (and is still integrating). Integrating refers to translating the Second Mind as functions through the relative boundaries of a First Mind.

  • In other cultures, such as that of India, such processes are handled outside the confines of society, because the process can be (not always) so intense that it requires near-total attention.

  • I was lucky to have the framework of advaita vedanta as well as a teacher to guide the initial stage of integration, which were overwhelming.

  • I saw that based on which aspects of mind were activated, certain experiences could be brought forth. These experiences could be mapped to "symptoms" if there was no understanding of how and why they were experienced.

  • In the subsequent stage, a teacher was not available. The intensity was affecting my family life. I did not want to leave society so I chose to take medication for 2 or 3 months to slow down the process of integration and learn the management of subtler, inner processes (known popularly as mind, chakras, prana, chi, etc).

  • Having learned (and still learning) these techniques, broadly described as meditation, mindfulness, yoga, the integrating process continues.

  • What happened in my case is not what happens in all cases, yet all cases of overwhelm and suffering are expressions of an integrative process happening. The reason for integration may differ (trauma, unreconciled beliefs, new phase of life, etc), category may differ (within First Mind, across First and Second, etc), and intensity may differ, but the essential processes are the same.

  • I am not romanticizing suffering. I am saying suffering is not random and has a meaningful story to tell.


  • Key factors that worked for me

  • Had an entire tradition and culture saying that the integration that was happening was a great event in the journey of a human being.

  • Had close contact with someone who experienced it and is highly respected for having experienced it.

  • As a physician, I understood the implications of the modern lack of understanding of mind-body perspectives, criteria for diagnoses, and so on. As a result, I was able to hold multiple worldviews together and communicate across them at the level of understanding of the person front of me.

  • Key factors that worked against me

  • The society around me didn’t understand what was happening and what was needed. If it did, there would be a kind of sabbatical built-in to our societal structures to allow the process of integration to continue, followed by a period of re-integration into a different kind of societal life, where insights are valued and applied to societal systems.

  • I had a framework, yet didn’t have detailed understanding of the process of integration.

  • Fuller understanding requires understanding relationship of 1M to 2M

  • New functions of the mind

  • If there is no awareness of 2M there is equivalent of a subtle traumatic layer


  • Reminder: Suffering is real. It is not random and has a meaningful story to tell. The interpretation of suffering as “mental illness” is a choice based on many factors.


  • Why are "mental health" and "mental illness" not medical realities?

  • They are culture-dependent and education-dependent

  • In some cases, "mental illness" in one culture may be not be an illness in another culture. It may even be lauded in another culture.

  • Blog: Is enlightenment a mental illness?

  • If our education about the mind were better, some kinds of suffering will not become "illness".

  • Both refer to the mind, but we don’t know what or where the mind is.

  • What if I, as an emergency physician, diagnosed someone with a "kidney infection", yet could not tell them what the kidney is or where the kidney is? To say the very least, this puts my diagnosis in question on account of my knowledge base.


  • The beginning of a solution

  • Ask

  • Do we need the phrases "mental health" and "mental illness" if we have deeper insight into the mind, if we find there is hope through discovering meaning, and if we are compassionate?

  • Are we doing our very best to mine the knowledge from other cultures and translate and map that knowledge to our understanding?

  • Are we willing to admit what we do not know so that we can learn?

  • If you are overwhelmed

  • Know that the mind does not act randomly. The mind is trying to integrate.

  • Know that experiences can be painful and difficult and still carry some meaning.

  • Know that others have had similar experiences and made it through to greater levels of insight and function.

  • Find someone who can facilitate you discovering your story through these experiences.

  • There can be a role for medication to facilitate this process.

  • Ask for help with integration.

  • Share these considerations with a professional if you are working with one.

  • If you are not overwhelmed

  • Read about the Second Mind.

  • Invest effort in self-education, and if possible, public communication. True expertise of the mind comes from

  • recognizing the Second Mind

  • recognizing the deeper anatomy of the human being

  • understanding the basics of philosophy of mind

  • ongoing integration



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© 2020 by Anoop Kumar