Some mentally ill people are really incurable

Manfred Lütz: "I don't know any normal people"

Manfred Lütz achieved a feat: he wrote a bestseller about the mentally ill. And explains why we may be treating the wrong people.

Why did you write a book on mental illness? Because there are too many of them, we know too little about them or the “normal” people are still afraid of the mentally ill?

Manfred Lütz: A little bit of everything. One third of Austrians will get mentally ill at some point in their life, the other two thirds have relatives who are affected. Yet extremely little is known about mental illness. People still have ideas like in the Middle Ages. Also from psychiatry, as a kind of jail. Thankfully everyone now knows what anorexia is, but nobody knows what schizophrenia or severe depression is. Therefore I wanted to describe all diseases and all therapies on 185 pages. And generally understandable. Because if you always talk so self-importantly about the mentally ill, people get the impression that you need a university education to ask a schizophrenic for directions to the train station. The book aims to reduce and clear up fears of the mentally ill. Some of those affected have written to me that this is the first time they have understood their illness.


Your book is already a bestseller, now the subject has become even more explosive due to the suicide of the German team goalkeeper.

The good thing about this tragic event is that the wife and the psychiatrist made it very impressive to explain to people why this happened. The public always wants to know why. Such a phase of depression can come down on a person out of the blue. This serious illness can, however, be treated well with psychotherapy and psychotropic drugs. Antidepressants are also not addictive. Many people do not know this and therefore shy away from therapy. This depression is curable. However, a tenth of those affected commit suicide at some point. This is, so to speak, natural death in severe depression.


You write that, paradoxically, suicide often happens during the recovery phase.

Right. When the drive and mood are miserable, people often can't do anything. When the drive returns first, but the mood is still miserable, that is the most dangerous phase.

Isn't depression mostly associated with weak people? Successful people are not allowed to have something like that.

The term "depression" is now used in an inflationary way. Not every tear is a depression. In a marital crisis, it is normal for you to cry. If you're very happy about that, you might be mad. That's not normal either. Emotional fluctuations are a part of life. The disease occurs when fear and worry become inappropriate.


They reject the term "widespread disease" for depression. But isn't the disease increasing significantly?

At least the diagnoses are increasing. In the past, people were certainly not that sensitive to it, but the diagnostic schemes have also changed. Even today, a slight disorder is sometimes declared to be a depression. This is nonsensical. The psychiatrist Klaus Dörner once extrapolated how many Germans would be ill in need of psychotherapy on this basis. The result: 210 percent. You shouldn't create a threatening backdrop with statistical figures. You shouldn't use it to justify your own worldview and say: Everything is going down the drain again.

Are mental illnesses increasing?

The addictions are actually increasing. Schizophrenia and major depression do not increase. Mild depression might be.


Your book is not only a cheerful lore of the soul, it is also a not so funny social criticism: that our problem is normal people. What bothers you about normal people?

This is of course also a funny hook. But when I have to deal with touching dementia patients or sensitive schizophrenics in the hospital and watch the news on television in the evening, with warmongers, economic criminals and egomaniacs, I sometimes think to myself: Maybe we are treating the wrong people. Our problem is the normals. Adolf Hitler, for example, wasn't crazy. Had he been crazy, a few psychotropic drugs and a little work therapy for an unemployed painter in Vienna could have prevented millions of deaths. But the tragic thing was: Hitler was terribly normal. But today there is not only normal madness, but also insanely normal people who want to standardize everything. For example the high priests of Political Correctness. The mentally ill do not adhere to these norms. They ensure that our society is a little more colorful and that the human temperature does not drop below freezing point.


Aren't you a little bit critical of normal people?

At the end of the book I also apologize to the normals. But actually I don't have to apologize at all because the object is missing. I don't know any normal people at all. Because everyone is somehow extraordinary. But we all run the risk of becoming overly normalized. The book is intended to encourage people to pay more attention to what is special in every person.

("Die Presse", print edition, November 15, 2009)