A Mind for Madness

Musings on art, philosophy, mathematics, and physics

Mental Illness

5 Comments


There has been a lot of talk about Eastern vs Western worldview differences, and I was curious as to whether mental illness had a lower frequency in the East. My hypothesis was that people whose worldview involved meditation and introspection as opposed to a worldview almost entirely based on external things would make a significant difference.

There are two immediate problems. Due to the worldview differences, the documented cases of mental illness in the East is probably significantly lower than the actual cases. The other major problem is that these worldviews are not very separate anymore. Any study in today’s globalized world would be tainted, since there are very few people who have exclusively one or the other view.

So I started web researching to see what would come up. It seems as if a study such as this may not have ever been done, but there has been lots of social studies to see how conceptions of mental illness are difference. So I altered my search to see if meditation in particular had been studied in relation to mental illness. This proved challenging as well, in that many non-scientific sites came up as personal testimony from someone that claimed to have cured an illness/mental illness through meditation.

There were far too many sites for me to try to sort through if any had what I was looking for considering this is just a random passing question I had. So briefly let’s look at some causes and see if these causes are less likely to occur in someone with an introspective worldview.

Cause 1: Neurotransmitter imbalance. I don’t really want to comment on this one without scientific support, but I am sure that there are scientific studies of people seriously altering their brain chemistry. Now if they had any control over neurotransmitters is another question. It doesn’t seem too unreasonable that meditation could help prevent this.

Cause 2: Heredity. Now according to webmd.com it is pretty random whether or not you inherit a mental illness, and it usually takes high stress, abuse, or trauma to trigger it. This seems to suggest to me that it is not genetic (though they claim it is), and that it is more of a mimic syndrome. You see someone in your family with a mental illness your whole life, then something traumatic happens and you develop those same symptoms. If this is the case, then meditation can definitely help empower someone to overcome the sense that you must develop these symptoms.

Cause 3: Infections/Brain injury. There doesn’t seem to be much you can do about an actually physical accident that occurs. There are without a doubt people who claim to have healed themselves through meditation, but this is far less common and also we are looking at prevention not healing. So can meditation help prevent an accident from occurring, probably not.

Cause 4: Poor nutrition/toxins. I do have to say that this is where Eastern culture and not just meditation can probably help. Many Eastern cultures such as Buddhism, Taoism, etc advocate a vegetarian or semi-vegetarian all-natural diet. The West seems obsessed with highly processed food and also animal products that have been produced in mass quantity. This mass quantity usually means that chemicals were used to enhance the amount. So I’d say the Eastern vs Western can be a prevention here, but meditation alone probably won’t do much.

I’ll keep digging randomly to see what I turn up and maybe post on this topic again in a week or two if I find anything new. Note: this is not a scientific or documented study. It was all opinion. No information here should be used as if it were fact.

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Author: hilbertthm90

I write about math, philosophy, literature, music, science, computer science, gaming or whatever strikes my fancy that day.

5 thoughts on “Mental Illness

  1. Another thing to think about is what percentage of people in East Asian countries actually practice meditation, vegetarianism etc. I would imagine it would be a very low, almost negligible number of people.

    That said, I reckon there would be less processed food eaten there (despite being non-vegetarian) which can’t hurt. But again, the difference isn’t as big, compare Western and Eastern families here — http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1626519_1373664,00.html (the ones eating most fresh foods are from South America and Africa)

  2. Thanks for the link. That was quite interesting.

    I guess I should really emphasize that eating meat in itself isn’t bad (despite the fact that I am a vegetarian), but the bad part is when growth hormone or some other chemical monstrosity is used. There are also some nutrients that can only be found in meat, so it also comes from excessive eating of meat.

    The proper amount of meat to eat per week is actually ridiculously low compared to what people would guess. Mark Bittman, a famous food critic, said that the amount of meat that the average American eats in a single day is the recommended amount for a week.

  3. Where are these Asian vegetarians of which you speak? In my experience, not only do Chinese and Japanese not follow vegetarian diets, they don’t even understand the concept. Meat is something that you eat when you can afford it, and there’s no reason not to consume it if you have the money. I have argued with waitresses that I don’t care if it’s only a little, and I don’t care how delicious it is, I don’t want to eat it.

    Also, Japan’s diet is almost as bad as America’s in regards to processed foods, although the portion sizes are still under control. China doesn’t have quite as much processed food yet, but I imagine that as they become wealthier that’ll change. For Japan especially, look at Okinawa and the changes in diet post-WWII, with the accompanying changes in obesity rates and disease. About the only diet there that pushes “all-natural” is macrobiotic, and that’s got a lot of malnutrition issues.

    I’m only focusing on those two countries because that’s where I’ve been, obviously, but also because they are the centers of Buddhism and Daoism.

  4. Well, like I said, in today’s age a study is basically moot due to the influences of globalization. Also, even if in practice Eastern culture eats lots of meat, at least their are traditions/religions that originated there that “advocate” vegetarianism. That is more than can be said about Western culture.

    It is interesting to note that when I first wrote that part I had included Jainism in the list. But I quickly deleted it realizing how incredibly unhealthy that strict of a diet is.

  5. Pingback: Blogging Birthday « A Mind for Madness

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