Is mental illness a choice?


I received an interesting and very kind letter from Patch Adams recently after sending him a copy of Fallible. (Of note: he is one of the few people I know of that still hand-writes letters. It’s very charming.) He relayed to me his story of severe depression. Instead of receiving treatment however, he simply decided to “never had a bad day again” many years ago, and he supposedly hasn’t. He also mentioned that he has been able to “cure” PTSD in a small group of returning soldiers with humor. In all his years of practice, he has never diagnosed someone with a mental illness nor treated anyone with a psychotropic.

I’m having a hard time with this. I don’t want to disbelieve him, or the many others who have similar beliefs that mental illness is little more than a pharmaceutical company invention, but it is certainly inconsistent with the medical view of mental illness. There was a great book that I quote in Fallible called Lost Connections by Johann Hari. It’s a very interesting read, but the main thesis is that the dramatically changing ways in which we interact with each other and the world is the cause of increased “mental illness.” He also points to evidence that much of the scientific data on the medical model is weak at best, though he doesn’t boil down the presence of mental illness to a choice. He mainly focuses on depression and anxiety.

I definitely think that Hari’s correct on the origins of the current epidemic of depression and anxiety, but I’m torn as to what the best response may be. There is a strong likelihood of an element of placebo in taking a psychotropic medication for depression and/or anxiety, probably even in my own case. I frankly don’t care if it’s a placebo effect for me or not. You could argue that the side effects outweigh the placebo benefit, but I do feel that my medications make a difference in my anxiety and depression.

Dr. Adams, a very kind and generous man, takes it beyond depression and anxiety to any mental illness, choosing not to diagnose mental illnesses that can lead to psychosis such as bipolar or schizophrenia. I do think that is too far, but could someone with depression or anxiety simply “decide” to not struggle with that anymore? There is always an element of choice in how we respond to external or internal stimuli, but you wonder if deciding not to deal with such things depends upon a matter of degree; it begs the question of whether the individual truly had a diagnosable condition in the first place.

As with most things in life, there is unlikely to be a black-and-white answer to any of this. Some people require medication, but it should not be viewed as an ultimate solution in and of itself, no matter the circumstances. There is likely a large cause of depression and anxiety from our ever-evolving interactions with life, but that doesn’t make it less real, or negate the need for true treatment. Some of us probably can improve our illness through deciding how to approach it differently. But to boil it down completely to a basic choice is too simplistic and binary to fit in the real world.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Moving right along

Things are progressing nicely for Fallible. I’m excited to report that there will be a Launch Party and book signing April 10 at 7pm at Weller Bookworks in Trolley Square in Salt Lake City! Please come if you’re available.

Positive reviews keep coming in! I received the review from the distinguished Kirkus Reviews yesterday, for which I am very grateful. Check out the full review to find out more about the book.

I also had the privilege of recently chatting with Keith Carlson on the Nurse Keith podcast. We had a great discussion on the poor training and working environments of medical professionals. If you’re a reader of this blog, I think you’ll enjoy Keith and my conversation.

More exciting news to come. Remember: if you haven’t ordered your copy of Fallible yet, you can get it at Black Rose Writing, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble. Cheers!


Like so many of us, I have always struggled with self-doubt and low self-esteem. For whatever reason, I don’t typically expect others to take interest in me, or expect them to value my thoughts or feelings when shared. This doesn’t bode well when publishing a book about your innermost demons and desires! That is why this latest review from IndieReader book review absolutely made my day. Hopefully this will wet your whistle for the Fallible‘s release on April 2nd.

“Here’s an irony: the dilemmas author Kyle Bradford Jones’s explores in his skillfully-written book, FALLIBLE: A Memoir of a Young Physician’s Struggle with Mental Illness, would persuade most readers–based on the evidence in its pages–to seek him out for medical care, despite his two diagnosed psychiatric conditions: major depressive and generalized anxiety. That is because his memoir teems with wisdom, knowledge, caring and integrity–qualities that one would hope to find in a man (or woman) of medicine.

“Jones’s shorter-form writing has distinguished him as something of an expert on mental wellness issues that affect physicians. But that’s hardly all the book addresses. Jones’s review of his life and experiences as they relate to his psychiatric challenges leads him to comment knowingly on the full range of what he feels is a broken healthcare system, and–like a star juggler–he blends both his personal tales and observations with a keen professional perspective. Jones’s warm and assured (plus clear as a high-mountain-spring prose) makes FALLIBLE invitingly readable, as he takes us from his youth through college, time overseas, marriage and budding family, medical school and residency to finally practicing medicine.

“Hence when Jones drills down into medical specifics he never leaves readers feeling lost in the weeds. He draws in smart references to the likes of Camus and Dostoevsky, alongside relevant chapter-opening quotes from hip musical acts like Elvis Costello and The Smiths with equal assurance. His deep religious faith is something that could rub up against science in less gifted hands, yet he integrates his not all-that-common and oft-misunderstood Mormonism into his life and book in a blended fashion that complements both religion and his secular self and concerns.

“Jones pulls no punches when discussing his “gargoyles,” as Jones calls his disorders. And most importantly, the author displays a profoundly robust human heart and smarts, even if he is unstinting is his critical observations of himself and much else.

“From soon after the reader begins this book, FALLIBLE reads like a talk with a trusted and well-informed friend, striking a seamless blend of personal story and bigger themes and issues. It’s a journey with many benefits that never fails to engage along its complex way.

“Kyle Bradford Jones’s memoir FALLIBLE travels the many rugged mine fields of being a young physician struggling with mental illness with a winning strength and grace.”

~Rob Patterson for IndieReader