How to Rethink Mental Illness. The Human Contexts Behind the Labels


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The world of mental illness is typically framed around symptoms and cures, where every client is given a label. In this challenging new book, Professor Bernard Guerin provides a fresh alternative to considering these issues, based in interdisciplinary social sciences and discourse analysis rather than medical studies or cognitive metaphors.

A timely and articulate challenge to mainstream approaches, Guerin asks the reader to observe the ecological contexts for behaviour rather than diagnose symptoms, to find new ways to understand and help those experiencing mental distress. This book shows the reader:

  • how we attribute ‘mental illness’ to someone’s behaviour
  • why we call some forms of suffering ‘mental’ but not others
  • what Western diagnoses look like when you strip away the theory and categories
  • why psychiatry and psychology appeared for the first time at the start of modernity
  • the relationship between capitalism and modern ideas of ‘mental illness’
  • why it seems that women, the poor and people of Indigenous and non-Western backgrounds have worse ‘mental health’
  • how we can rethink the ‘hearing of voices’ more ecologically
  • how self-identity has evolved historically
  • how thinking arises from our social contexts rather than from inside our heads.

Offering solutions rather than theory to develop a new ‘post-internal’ psychology, How to Rethink Mental Illness will be essential reading for every mental health professional, as well as anyone who has either experienced a mental illness themselves, or helped a friend or family member who has.


  • 1. Which behaviours are judged as ‘mental illness’ and why are they called ‘mental’?
  • 2. Contextual analysis for mental health
  • 3. Contextualizing language and thinking (cognition) for mental health
  • 4. Deconstructing the DSM.
  • 5. Mental health in modernity
  • 6. Belief and rationality, some thought disorders, and self-identity
  • 7. Contexts for societal oppression: being female, poor, or with a refugee background
  • 8. Contexts of devastation: Indigenous mental health and colonization

Author Bio:

Bernard Guerin is Professor of Psychology at the University of South Australia.