THE DARK MATTER OF PSYCHIATRY

The 'p-factor' and understanding suffering

Hello everyone, I hope you all had a wonderful weekend! Here is a journey into the mind that hopes to provide you something to contemplate.

As always, thank you for your support on this mind exploration journey I’ve taken, I truly appreciate the support and your kind words.

Please note, I’ve had some reach out wondering why the email isn’t showing up…if this is the case please check the promotions section on Gmail or your junk mail folder, then mark these as important(if you find them so)!

This week has a common theme around mental health and relating these issues to the problem of consciousness and the influences of society.


MY DARK MATTER

The algorithmic reinforcement of the self...I’ve had a lot of thoughts on this lately, more like a jumbled mess of incoherent nonsense. I knew that I must put my fingers on the keyboard and begin.

Many of you know this, but I’ve been fascinated by the various groupings our society creates. It’s been my obsession for the past few years.

The structures that we build as a society then create this strong influence on our inner subjective experience(our consciousness). These social structures from religion, corporations, philosophical ideologies, and political groupings influence our perception of reality. Thus, they influence our own inner well-being - the perception we have of ourselves.

An influence on our sense of self; and that sense of self influences our own mental well-being and ability to deal with mental health concerns.

So where do these groups come from?

How do they form?

What do they believe in?

What role does myth play in all of it?

The questions are endless.

Lately, I’ve become more enthralled by these phenomena. I seem to get this way during my depressive episodes, as these rushes of emotions pull me inward into my own internal abyss.

Where I tend to always end up asking, what is this place? How can we better define this abyss that we all have to some extent in us?

Part of me sees this pull to create an identity as a coping mechanism.

I become faced with the dilemma of creating an identity for myself, but not being too attached to said identity. As when the attachment becomes too strong, I begin feeling the pull to defend this identity. This defense of yourself is important, sometimes; it must be in doses.

If you never defend yourself, you allow yourself to be pressured and consumed by everything. We must recognize our psychological defense mechanisms and play this inward game; a game where we must facilitate our own understanding in order to find a mental balance of sanity.

As identity is important for creating our sense of purpose, our place here, and our tether to this existence. Without these mechanisms, we can more easily become lost. Yet that doesn’t change the existential angst one feels when trying to determine how much defending is necessary for your own sanity.

It’s about finding yourself but not doing it so much that you’re finding yourself for the sake of finding yourself.

After going down that rabbit hole, you come to the question of what is the self?

And no amount of Soren Kierkegaard and David Hume will help me solve that question.

Why does the question even matter?

Well, the question of the self is an understanding that develops your meaning-making mechanisms—your purpose.

Without purpose, we become lost.

As I speak about this...I think about the mental punishment I face with my own writing. Where I put my fingers to the keyboard, read my stuff back, and spiral into the hatred for the abomination of that which is my own writing and expression.

Why can’t I write what I’m feeling?

Oh, but you shouldn’t care what others think of your way of writing your thoughts?

Bullshit.

Writing is about a relationship with the reader, one with me - and the other being new people. But I already know that I relate to myself, I am myself. I create these words, this character of expression, with the hopes that others can find value in my own relation.

The thoughts of others matter to me simply because I find value in them. Thus, I value the thoughts of others.

It’s these depressive episodes that create that identity crisis, which then, typically, creates a valuable insight for myself.

And this is where I’ve found my own internal peace with these low moments because depression is not sadness. When sadness hits, all I can think about is the event or moment that my mind fixates on as the cause of that sadness. My mind is able to easily make sense of it. With the ability to make sense of it comes the ability to cope with the occurrence, and find a balanced peace again.

A depressive episode is numbness.

This numbness is where my mind becomes scrambled with moments of understanding that if I do, x, y, and z - I will feel better. But with the numbness comes the complete lack of will. So I have the knowledge that x, y, and z will be good for me, yet my mind is suppressed into a prison that at times feels inescapable. With lack of will, you have a lack of desire, and without desire the things you know you ought to do become out of the question - until they’re not.

Sometimes I come to the simplistic notion of, ‘why the fuck are you trying to take yourself so seriously?’ Fair enough.

I wonder about this almost every day.

And on the other days, I wonder why I don’t take myself seriously enough.

Part of my motivation for saying these thoughts this week is to let those know who face times of mental trouble - you’re not alone. As sometimes that can become the worst feeling - the perception of being alone in your mental battles. I assure you - you’re not alone.

But…I have another motivation…the ‘p-factor.’


OUR SEED OF SUFFERING

I read this wonderful article on Aeon titled… “The seed of suffering,” which caught my attention for obvious reasons. I recommend you all check it out as I’m only going to add my takeaways, however, the article provides their own personal struggle with mental health.

This subtitle partially sums up why I’m fascinated by this concept of the p-factor.

“The p-factor is the dark matter of psychiatry: an invisible, unifying force that might lie behind a multitude of mental disorders.”

I’m intrigued…as it’s a common criticism of psychiatry - and the field of psychology - that many mental health disorders are hard to distinguish. As for classifying disorders, with the multitude of factors that cause them, this creates a vague threshold for diagnosis.

The consequence of this is the difficulty of finding treatment for the patients.

However, I’m not surprised by this difficulty.

As the difficulty in classifying mental health problems largely extends from the mystery we have around consciousness. With regards to mental health and the conscious experience, we have to rely on first-person experiences, which inherently comes with a subjective bias. This forces us to rely on us describing our experience and reporting of mental states.

A reporting primed with inexactness and full of subjective interpretation.

And history tells us the descriptive reports of us humans is riddled with potential error.

I’m saying all of this because I find it important the field of psychology works more hand-in-hand with the conversations around consciousness.

That’s the puzzle!

That’s a foundational mystery that needs understanding in order for us to better understand the mental battles people face.

Now, part of this is a conversation for another day, but the common narrative followed in Western medicine is: seeing a rise in suicide rates - and then thinking it’s time for new depression pills.

There’s a disconnect there.

How are we getting at the root of the problem?

Spoiler, we are not. We are failing miserably.

Understanding the experience of consciousness and the origins of suffering that creates the excruciating turmoil people face - that’s the key.

Instead of purely seeing mental concerns as inner wiring that needs to be fixed only in pill form…

We should give more focus to the external factors that influence people’s perception of their own mental well-being.

So instead of “here take these pills.”

Maybe we should consider how many are overworked, being crushed by student debt, can’t afford the doctor they’re seeing for their mental health, are underpaid at their work, and barely able to afford to put food on the table for their family.

On top of that, the environments people grow up in and the current conditions they face that might be causing continued trauma and unjustifiable suffering.

What systems do we have in place that are influencing our reality? And when we have our reality influenced…we are directly talking about how we experience consciousness.


THE ‘P-FACTOR’

"There’s an alternative approach. A growing troupe of scientists think that focusing on one or two diagnoses in a study – as is common in psychiatric research – has meant that the true nature of mental disorders remains hidden. To understand what are essentially brain disorders, they argue you have to zoom out. Considering the whole spectra of psychiatric possibility reveals similarities in symptoms, brain circuitry and genetics. Shaking off the shackles of diagnostic classification, there is growing evidence that all mental disorders are actually the product of a single underlying dimension, a common liability for psychopathology. Known as the ‘p-factor’, this theoretical concept brings the potential for important new ways to treat and prevent psychiatric disorders."

And one more to set the stage…

“In the case of mental disorders, they added, a positive correlation between symptoms can be explained by a similar web of interconnections without recourse to a p-factor: one symptom leads to another, a blossoming of anxiety releases the seeds of substance use disorder or depression; the common experience of guilt in depression creates the fertile soil for paranoia or psychosis.”

My takeaway is the ‘p-factor’ is this force that exists in all of us; it is influenced by everything from external forces and our own internal abyss. A ‘factor’ that is beholden by a multitude of influences from genetics, our environment, and the mystery ball of consciousness.

But this brought me to a thought on the nihilistic void that I believe exists in all of us…

And I see that perception of our own internal abyss as interconnected with this concept of a p-factor. As that pull into meaninglessness, where we lose sight of our sense of reality, our purpose, and our sense of meaning - that’s a place that is ripe with suffering.

When we fall far enough into our own inner darkness that same fertile soil for paranoia and psychosis can be found.

The point being, both the ‘p-factor’ and the description of the nihilistic void are observations of a state of being around human consciousness.

And understanding the pulls into the various difficulties of a conscious experience is important in keeping our own void and ‘p-factors’ at a healthy constant.

This gets into my embrace of thinking of nihilism more as a psychological state of being. When one of my favorite philosophers, Nolan Gertz said, “nihilism is a constant threat.” And for some, I believe that threat is greater. Their ‘p-factor’ of that nihilistic pull is more profound and mentally strenuous. It’s constantly lurking. It’s a psychological state that is part of the human condition; it’s just there; it’s not something followed as an idea(nihilism) - it’s an observation of the human condition.

The observation of - oh wait - we lucky fucking humans are actually not granted the capacity for certainty. We are only granted the hope for this, as these facts from science, ideas of meaning, and understanding of life are of wonderful importance to our existence. But in the ned, they’re built on hope.

So what are we left with?

As Gertz said:

“Either keep thinking and risk alienating yourself from society, or stop thinking and risk alienating yourself from reality.”

And there’s a balance in all of this…

Questions of, how much is society creating ripe soil for the strong pull of individuals’ inner void?

So of course I read this article coming away believing we can help people keep this ‘factor’ at bay by acknowledging the origins of it - our conscious experience. And then ask ourselves, what are we allowing to influence our consciousness?

Many influences go into this, do we have a sense of purpose? Where does our meaning come from? These are important “sense of self” tools to utilize when facing our internal suffering and trauma…they help us in keeping moving forward.

As I’m a believer in acknowledging those dark places within ourselves; it’s important for us as a society to have conversations about helping people not be overcome by that inner abyss.

This requires a reflection on ourselves from our own experiences and environments. Then acknowledging the suffering of others, only then can we begin to better understand the mental battles of others and be honest about the factors that make them more difficult.

As we must be honest about the state of our society and the rising concern around mental health.

It’s not just about our own mental health, it’s about the health of our society and the future we wish to build.


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Until next time,

With love,

Brenden

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