Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Modern mental disorders need an overhaul

I feel vindicated.

The New York Review of Books combined three different books on mental illnesses into a single review that asks some hard-hitting questions about the prevalence of mental disorders and pharmaceutical solutions, including questions I've had for the past decade:

What is going on here? Is the prevalence of mental illness really that high and still climbing? Particularly if these disorders are biologically determined and not a result of environmental influences, is it plausible to suppose that such an increase is real? Or are we learning to recognize and diagnose mental disorders that were always there? On the other hand, are we simply expanding the criteria for mental illness so that nearly everyone has one?
The simplistic "chemical imbalance" explanation for depression is something I've found fishy and I'm glad to see it's getting the attention it deserves.

How can depression be caused solely by biological factors and be a constantly-increasing disability that prevents a large share of people from going to work. If that were true, wouldn't it have prevented people from going to work a century ago? We can plainly see it didn't, so how can the defenders of brain chemistry determinism cling to the excuse that people were always this depressed, we just didn't know to look for it or record it.

In Anatomy of an Epidemic, Robert Whitaker writes:
The number of disabled mentally ill has risen dramatically since 1955, and during the past two decades, a period when the prescribing of psychiatric medications has exploded, the number of adults and children disabled by mental illness has risen at a mind-boggling rate.
The other two books, Unhinged by Daniel Carlat and The Emperor's New Drugs by Irving Kirsch, expand on these themes and present psychiatry as a science compromised by its relationship with the pharmaceutical companies. I'm reminded of the Louis Menand episode of Econtalk about the state of psychiatry, and how the DSM-V is going to erase the line between grieving and depression.

As I've written before, it's dangerous to oppose a scientific consensus if you're not intimately versed in the subject. I'm willing to take a stand against these elements of modern psychiatry because I feel I know enough about this subject, I can see the logical flaws in the reasoning and I've listened to the responses and do not find them compelling.

Diagnosed mental problems have been creeping into the lives of normal, healthy people. Depression is not a disease and neither is alcoholism. I think we will see some major changes in the scientific views on these subjects in the next decade.

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