Mental Health: as standard or other…

by Julia Evans on October 22, 2012

These reflections were started when in a semi-comatose state I listened to a report of a seminar at Lambeth Palace on how faith communities can help combat the stigma of mental health.  [See endnote [i] ]

I was troubled by the assertion that mental illness can be cured and, though the attempt at inclusion is worthy, I think it is misguided as it starts from the wrong premise.

Premises which may be underlying this trumpeting:

1)  Mental Illness is a medical condition which can be cured provided the ‘expert’ diagnoses correctly and the standard treatment applied.

2)  There must be a standard of not-mentally ill, probably normal, so the ‘expert’ can tell the human-BEING is no longer mentally ill.

3)  The basis for inclusion of those with the stigma of mental illness is an imperative. So the ‘experts’ or others (the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Minister of State for health (Care Services)) tell us to stop being naughty and excluding such different human beings.

I think there are two underlying paradigms:

There is a standard way for a human being to develop which will give a normal human being.  Anyone who is not a normal human being must have failed to develop in the correct way.  Thus there are two categories of human BEINGS: one is normal and the other abnormal.  The message I received on Sunday morning is that the normal ones must not stigmatise the abnormal ones.


We are human beings – unique and different.  There is no such thing as normality as we are all different.  Clearly some of us get tagged with the label ‘Mental Ill’ and these conditions cause much distress to each unique sufferer and to those around them.  Being Mentally Ill does not mean that the label substandard can be applied.  It is anyway impossible to classify all human BEINGS into ‘Normal’ or ‘Mentally Ill’.  We share the same human-ness.

If treatment or help is wanted, then it should be made available. However, all treatments must respect our common humanity. If I offer to help someone, I do so from the position of being an equal but different fellow human being.  I do not implement a cure from the authoritative expert position as in medicine.

In my response to the Government’s 2011 CON-sultation (see endnote [ii]) I try to critique the assumptions this Government uses when talking of Mental Health.

I ended my last post, (see endnote [iii]) with ‘Perverse or perversion is not a deviation from the standard, it is the base-line from which we all develop.’  With the category Mental Health my conclusion is: Mental Ill-health is not a deviation from the standard, normality, it is a symptom of our common humanity.  Most of us seek help at some point in our lives. To treat anyone’s subjectivity or human BEING-ness as a medical problem to be prevented or cured is an insult.

PS  I have also critiqued these ideas in 2010. See Lacanian Works : Who is in bed with whom (Part 2)? A call for your action. by Julia Evans on December 2, 2010 or here  The important points seem to be near the end – clearly written in haste…..

[i] The Sunday Programme: Radio 4 : 21/10/2012

Duration: 45 minutes

First broadcast: Sunday 21 October 2012

Available here

Many people with mental health problems report that the stigma can have a worse impact than the mental health problem itself. A seminar at Lambeth Palace explored how the faith communities can help combat the stigma. Trevor Barnes went along.

[ii] Reply to CON-sultation: Equity and excellence: Liberating the NHS White Paper July 2010 by Julia Evans on October 9, 2010 or here

Section 9 is particularly recommended, though this point is made elsewhere.

Quote from Section 9.  Prevention

From Customer Services Department – Health (possibly the DoH) response to my July 2010 e-mail to Mr Burns, Minister for State – Health:

Our ref: DE00000524198 – Mental health policy 10th August 2010

I can assure you that the Government recognises that mental health services are a vital part of the NHS and understands that high quality services must promote prevention, recovery and social inclusion for people who experience mental illness.

a) Mental Illness

The Government seem to be able to classify those subjects who are substandard – depressed, anxious, etc –

from ‘the normal’ using a classification systems of symptoms. The Government’s Customer Services Department has no doubt, which I always find a very interesting symptom.

So the Government divides its subjects into those who experience mental illness and those who do not.

So the Government and its Customer Service Department are superior to the rest of us in that they know who is mentally ill and who is not.

Of course, by definition, no member of this superior Government or its Customer Services Department is mentally ill.  …. continued

[iii] Further comments on ‘perverse jouissance’: Seminar VII: session of 18th November 1959 by Julia Evans on October 22, 2012 or here


My take on what both Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan do is they reverse the logic of the development of sexual orientation.  The two logics:

Sexual development suddenly appears at puberty (in both male and female bodies) in its ‘normal’ or ‘standard’ form.  Any deviation from this standard, a man and a woman together in a long term relationship, is defined as perverse.  In the UK, homosexuals are now emerging into this standard form.

The perverse sexual disposition of childhood gives rise, in each individual, to a sexual position (most of the time – emptiness has been commented on elsewhere – see, for example, The Empty Subject: Un-Triggered Psychoses in the New Forms of the Symptom: 1999: Massimo Recalcati )  Thus everyone’s position is based in perverse jouissance.

When child sexual abuse is used, by the tabloids, to boost their circulation figures perversion becomes deviant and evil.  I do not advocate the altering, in any way, of the law as regards child sexual abuse, rape, sexual molestation and so on.  These have been defined, in the UK, as criminal acts within the law.  It, however, remains the case that each individual’s sexuality, develops out of their polymorphous perverse sexual disposition.  So in this sense, we are all perverse.

Perverse or perversion is not a deviation from the standard, it is the base-line from which we all develop.


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Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, London


Further posts:

Some Lacanian history here

Lacanian Transmission here 

Of the clinic here

Translation Working Group here 

 From LW working groups here

Use of power here

By Sigmund Freud here 

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud here 

By Jacques Lacan here    

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here 

By Julia Evans here