"A LITTLE girl of seventeen in a mental hospital told me she was terrified because the Atom Bomb was inside her. That is a delusion. The statesmen of the world who boast and threaten that they have Doomsday weapons are far more dangerous, and far more estranged from 'reality' than many of the people on whom the label 'psychotic' is affixed."

As The Donald inches closer to the nuclear launch codes, this quote from the late Scottish anti-psychiatrist and 1960s guru RD Laing has been rattling around my head. Mad To Be Normal is the title of the biopic of Laing’s life (with David Tennant in the main role) that will close the Glasgow Film Festival this year.

It looks like quite the Paisley-pattern nostalgia trip. But expect the movie to raise all the same controversies that Laing did when he set up his “safe havens” such Kingsley Hall in London in the early 1970s.

At the time, the usual response of official psychiatry to psychosis of any kind was heavy medication and/or electro-shock therapy.

Laing thought that schizophrenia wasn’t an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, but an indirect critique of society. People will come to see, wrote Laing in The Politics of Experience, “that what we call ‘schizophrenia’ was one of the forms in which, often through quite ordinary people, the light began to break through the cracks in our all-too-closed minds”.

Nowadays, Laing is a byword for the excesses of the sixties and seventies counterculture. He is often accused of “romanticising mental illness”: denying the neuro-chemical basis of schizophrenia; and holding back medication from sufferers, while tripping away on LSD in his hedonistic private life.

This movie prompted me to voice a worry I’ve had for a while, around the consensus that much more attention (and resources) should be devoted to mental health services.

Earlier this week, Theresa May aimed to flesh out her “sharing society” rebrand by pledging to “remove the stigma” attached to mental health (which doesn’t require the restoration of what has been lost in cuts to services, apparently).

The Scottish Government is about to launch its own 10-year mental health plan.

And at the New Year, we discovered from some Scottish charities that nearly 30 per cent of Scots had experienced “mental health problems”, and that one-fifth of the population was beset with various forms of depression.

Phew. As someone who has availed himself of an NHS cognitive behavioural therapy programme (for anger management), and found it extremely helpful, I’m not about to minimise the necessity for these services. But reading through the vision document of the Scottish plan, something really niggles at me.

There is no mention of the word “poverty” in the document. “Economy” appears once (where mental health sufferers will be helped to “contribute to the economy, and access employment opportunities”). “Inequality” is mentioned a few times, but the way it frames “mental health problems” are as a self-contained factor in the population. Can’t we just say, in Scotland, that our arrangement of society and economy makes people psychologically unwell?

Can’t we say that extremes of wealth polarisation, that precarious and insecure forms of work, that a debt-driven hyper-consumerism, that the deliberate destabilisations of advertising, that the constant interactive demands of social media – all play their part in the epidemic of mental illness sweeping developed countries like ours?

We could say it, of course.

And a new book of essays, The Political Self: Understanding the Social Context For Mental Illness, edited by Rob Tweedy, would give us much ammunition to say so. But here’s the problem. The dominant agenda (worthwhile in itself) is mainly about “destigmatising” attitudes to mental ill-health in society. Could that blunt our critique of the bigger, deeper, more systemic forces that drive its rising rates?

We don’t need RD Laing’s atom-bomb comparison (though it works for me) to make quite precise correlations, and sometimes causations, between our social order and mental ill-health. Based on World Health Organisation data, the authors of The Spirit Level show that mental illness is higher in more unequal rich societies – the UK just behind the US at the top, with around 27 per cent of the population.

Wilkinson and Pickett’s constant theme is that all social strata are badly affected, whenever any sense of common good is strained to breaking point by economic polarisation. Also, growing up in poverty doesn’t make you mentally unwell, if everyone else is poor – but growing up in poverty next to rich people may well do.

Laing’s pushback against medical psychiatry – its assumption that most maladies are “in-born”, or in the current language, genetic – also seems to be making a grand return. The biomedical establishment, and Big Pharma, have a degree of commercial interest in medicalising mental illness.

But there are obvious disproofs emerging. Take something as simple as living in cities. As cited by Professor Richard Bentall and psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas in The Political Self, city life makes you 15 per cent more likely to be psychotic, with the rates of schizophrenia two-and-a-half times higher than in rural areas. “So it ain’t genetic”, says Bollas. Yet if so, there’s a funding scandal here. Institutions such as the Medical Research Council pump hundreds of millions into technologies like brain scanners or gene sequencing machines.

But only three per cent of its budget goes into studies on mental ill-health. Much more in the way of resources could be devoted to identifying “the actual triggers for illness”, says Bentall, “which lie in social contexts and life experience”.

As with many things in Scotland, we’re half on the cutting edge of this challenge, and half dragging our leg behind us. The integration of health and social care presumes a linkage between the social determinants that shape us, and our physical and mental health.

But it looks like this holistic public service faces an under-regulated, chaos-inducing market system – which is Scotland’s fate, mid-devo and pre-indy. How much can the fine workers in that service become more than just damage-limiters – or as one salty old social worker once put it to me, “ambulancemen for capitalism”?

Another contradiction is highlighted by Holyrood Magazine, and its beautiful series on Kirsty, a fictional baby from a hard-scrabble background, born on the first day of the current parliamentary term, whose course it is charting. The Scottish Government is committed to preventative care. And getting the upbringing of children right, across those biologically-sensitive first 1,000 days of their lives, is a crucial element of that.

If there’s one way to reduce the incidence of mental ill-health in later life, says Professor Bentall, “it’s to ensure all our children experience benign childhoods”. The huge benefits that loving, attentive, stress-light parenting (from mum or dad) brings to a child’s cognition, emotional stability and overall development are very well substantiated by neuroscience.

Yet Liam Kirkaldy’s report on Kirsty points out what he calls “a tension”. That is, between what the science tells us about the best conditions of nurturance – and a childcare programme which encourages mothers to work.

“While it may allow more uptake of jobs, inevitably that means working mothers will spend less time with their children”, writes Kirkaldy. “This diminishes the attachment children need for their brains to develop, in ways which will enable them to be resilient learners with secure relationships.”

The implication isn’t “mums back to the hearth”, of course – but a radical rethink, for all caring parents, of our work-life balance. It implies a grand new goal: to create the best possible conditions for parenting, so that we directly invest in our collective future.

Universal basic income may be part of that picture – but we need a burst of policy boldness here. Which, to me, is the point of independence.

Please let me be clear: I have great compassion for those with mental health problems. I’ve hardly been a tranquil sea myself.

Scots should also spare enough energy to critique our social and economic order – pointing out the ways it intentionally unravels us, and the ways we can resist and reform it.

RD Laing was one part groovy charlatan. The other part of him, always for people over systems, would be nodding gravely here, I am sure.

The Political Self: Understanding the Social Context for Mental Illness, edited by Rod Tweedy (Karnac Books). Mad To Be Normal debuts at the end of the Glasgow Film Festival, February 26, GFT.