This is certainly not for everyone. For some will simply refuse to accept that the humanities have something of worth to say about anything at all, let alone about mental illness. I suppose that’s fine, it is not quite the point of this thread to discuss that, so if that is the case, don’t bother reading along. (edit: it turned out that it sort of was the point of this after all)
By those who did, though, it should be noted, that when it comes to understanding any phenomenon, and hence also mental illness, it need not be a matter of either the sciences, or the humanities. My take on it is that there is sometimes confusion in the humanities when people are starting to make claims of causation. This is when they could end up in conflict with the sciences, particularly, a disagreement about whether this thing or that thing is the cause of some phenomenon.
But putting things in perspective, in a context, need not involve such claims. Such can be very, very elaborate, but a very small example may indicate the same thing. For instance, some anxious state may be said to be “the result of living in times of war”. This seems to me to be something that in appropriate cases is one way of coming to understand the sufferer. It is an intelligible statement. This is to put the anxiety into a context, and we can readily come to understand the anxiety by doing so. Not in every sense of the term ‘understanding’, for it does not give, e.g., a neurobiological account of the anxious state. But it does do something. It does amount to some form of understanding, for I think such a statement can clarify the other’s suffering to us. But, appearences not withstanding, I think this is not an intelligible causal claim…
What kind of thing is “times of war” such that it can causally affect another thing? Times of war are made up of many things, but it is a rather vague term. Some objects or events may or may not be included. I think it is significant that we need not know all that is or is not included in the notion to be able to use it in a way that makes for us to readily come to understand, in some sense, the person suffering from the anxiety. We can deal with this vagueness. This goes to show that the notion ‘times of war’ is not simply a form of shorthand for an immensely complex chain of causal connections between a vast amount of particles that would take libraries full of books to explicate.
We simply do not know all these connections and particles involved, and yet we can meaningfully use this notion of ‘times of war’ to come to some understanding of the other. It does not seem to me to be an hypothesis on such a vast amount of connections and particles either - for the vagueness of the notion implies that we do not even know what counts as a confirmation of this ‘hypothesis’. Moreover, the sufferer could readily agree that it is indeed times of war that make him/her anxious, and this consent means something when clarifying the anxiety. It makes a difference whether the sufferer gives his/her consent or not - but is it a confirmation of that immense causal hypothesis, the one that we did not even know what particles/events were involved to begin with? On what grounds should we attribute authority to the sufferer on that?
In connection to this, I enjoyed reading the following: http://www.psicothema.com/pdf/3445.pdf