As a psychiatrist, over the course of many decades treating patients with severe mental illnesses, I have wondered why humans are plagued with these problems. My explorations led me to develop the theory I present in this essay.
The essence of my theory is that mental illnesses are among the many unfortunate side effects of our evolution from apes to modern-day humans. For example, I explain how our evolution into an upright physical posture was essential to acquiring the decisive benefits of teamwork but has also had the side effect of creating debilitating, expensive-to-treat back, hip, and joint problems. Similarly, I show how the motivations evolved to enable this collective human functioning have led to the devastating side effects of clinical depression, panic disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.
The essay illustrates how key components of normal emotional experience break down into the felt symptoms of each of these mental illnesses. This understanding of pathology at the experiential level could lead to new approaches to physical treatments; but more immediately, upon realizing the depth of affinity between our own emotions and the symptoms of mental illness, the age-old stigma that continues to isolate those afflicted with these illnesses naturally evaporates.