The Sun Magazine continues to amaze me by having pieces that challenge what I know. Here's a bit of an interview with psychologist Gail Hornstein from the July 2011 issue.
"Frisch: Why do you feel so strongly about avoiding the phrase “mental illness”?
Hornstein: The term “mental illness” is heavily charged, politicized, and ambiguous. I prefer to talk about “anomalous experiences,” “extreme emotions,” and “emotional distress.” The main reason I don’t use medical language is that people who are suffering often don’t find it very helpful. No one experiences “schizophrenia” — that’s just a technical name for a lot of complicated feelings.
People who have been taught that “mental illnesses are brain diseases” see psychiatric patients as dangerous and unlikely to recover. And those in crisis are often understandably reluctant to consult mental-health professionals, because the stigma of mental illness is so severe: it’s possible to lose your job, your home, and your family as a consequence of being diagnosed with a mental illness. In cultures that take a social view of emotional distress, by contrast, people more readily seek help because they aren’t as likely to be ostracized and are assumed to be capable of full recovery."
She goes on to talk about studies of people diagnosed with schizophrenia in developed and undeveloped countries. "[O[utcomes were much better the developing countries."
You can read the whole Hornstein interview here.
Here's a bit more:
"Hornstein: In psychiatry mental illness is a metaphor imposed on people’s behavior. There aren’t any physical methods of diagnosing a mental illness: There’s no blood test. There’s no mri. So-called mental illnesses are diagnosed on the basis of behavior. The “chemical-imbalance” theory was invented by the marketing departments of drug companies to try to convince doctors to prescribe their products. Some doctors say depression is just like diabetes: you have an imbalance of a neurotransmitter, the way a diabetic might need more or less insulin, and this drug will restore your balance. But with diabetes it’s possible to measure the amount of sugar and insulin in your blood. We know what a balanced level is. No doctor who has given anyone an antidepressant has ever measured the level of a neurotransmitter in the patient’s body. There is no independent means by which to tell if someone has a “chemical imbalance.”
Frisch: Do any mental illnesses have a known physiological basis?
Hornstein: The initial symptoms of Huntington’s disease resemble the symptoms of mental illness. When folk singer Woody Guthrie first manifested Huntington’s disease, he was sent to a psychiatric hospital. Similarly people in the early stages of brain cancer may behave in anomalous ways. If you don’t know they have cancer, you might think they’re having a psychiatric breakdown. But once they get a cat scan, you can see the brain tumor. You can’t see schizophrenia."I don't know if all this is true. I've come to believe that meds help with some symptoms, but also to know that they often have negative side-effects, and tend not to deal with the underlying causes. This raises questions to pursue.
Thanks Jim for plying me with all those Suns. You hooked me.