A MENTAL health expert once told Jo McFarlane: “If you ask ‘why do people have schizophrenia?’ a psychiatrist is likely to say ‘because you hear voices’.

“But ask ‘why do we hear voices’? and the answer boils down to ‘because you have schizophrenia’.”

She’s something of an expert on the subject herself, having been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder herself, one of a series of mental health diagnoses, over many years.

Some psychiatrists too have concerned about labelling mental health conditions

She’s worried that much of modern psychiatry is hugely subjective, and reliant on treatment with psychoactive drugs based on limited scientific evidence.

In one instance, a doctor she only saw once decided on the basis of that five minute consultation to change her diagnosis. “It was pretty arbitrary,” she says, and had a major detrimental effect on how she was subsequently treated. She later received an apology, and was told the label she was given had stuck: “because it was the last thing in her notes so no one thereafter bothered to read my case history”.

There is no shortage of former psychiatric patients like Jo, and current ones, willing to be critical of their treatment.

Mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and even depression are a myth according to leading experts

That’s not surprising and some might fall back on the cliche common in popular culture that not thinking you have a mental health problem can be part of that problem.

But Jo is not denying she needed help. She had 17 years of therapy with one particular worker. “We used to fall out quite a bit and she sectioned me lots of times. I probably did need that, I was very suicidal,” she says.

She has also welcomed diagnosis, in the past. “There is a comfort in saying ‘this is as a result of my biology’. And I’m very grateful for some of the support I’ve received. But with more distance, I’ve become more critical of the whole system.”

In particular, she says, she doubts the scientific basis for the conditions she has been told she suffered from.