Here We Go Again

The psychiatric profession has been hammering the genetic explanation home on schizophrenia and other serious mental disorders for so long that you’d think, as they claim, the matter proven. Repeating a line over and over again doesn’t make it true, or what science is out to do in the first place, proven. Calling suspicions and intuitions proof doesn’t cut it.

The National Institute of Health is throwing away millions and millions of dollars on research into the genetics of madness. The result of these studies has essentially been to push any meaningful use that can be made of these studies, if any meaningful use is to be made of them at all, further and further into the distant future. The possibility that the initial assumptions behind this research may be in error is not one of the possibilities researchers have factored into their efforts.

There are two main approaches in current mental health treatment, and these two approaches, often operating simultaneously in the same treatment facilities, are at cross purposes. First, there is the recovery model that would, despite the best efforts of these researchers, hold serious mental illness to be a condition that could be fully overcome with time, effort, and concern. Then, second, there is the biological psychiatric theory that holds serious mental illness out to be a permanent condition determined by a person’s genetic make up. Under this theory, a semblance of normality, maintained by a regimen of regular drug use, is the best that can be expected for a person stricken by one of these maladies.

We don’t ask what the genes are that would cause a soldier in captivity to crack under torture. We don’t ask what the genes are that would shut a prisoners lips, and keep that prisoner from squealing on his or her cohorts, in the face of certain death. We don’t look for genes to explain why most people would burn out on the job, in certain lines of work, given enough stress and pressure. We wouldn’t be seeking the genes behind schizophrenia and bipolar disorder if we didn’t feel somehow that the experience of receiving a psychiatric diagnosis had not pushed a segment of the population a wee bit closer to a lower branch on the evolutionary tree than the rest of humanity.

In the early part of the twentieth century the eugenics movement swept through the psychology and psychiatry departments on campuses throughout this country. This same eugenics movement, exported to Germany, played a major role in arriving at what came to be known as ‘the final solution’. The idea was to weed out, starting with types considered to be degenerate, those members of the species deemed unfit to reproduce. This idea was eventually extended to include members of a racial and ethnic minority. I’m afraid that the present generation of psychiatrists has not sufficiently dealt with the implications of their professions involvement in this movement, or they would be taking a vastly different approach to the resolution of misfortune.

7 Responses

  1. […] advocates don’t like being perceived as a problem that needs to be solved. Here’s how one blogger feels about the quest for a genetic understanding of schizophrenia: We don’t ask what the genes […]

    • You’re very correct. Advocates don’t like being perceived as a problem that needs to be solved. You speak of autism rights advocates, but then there are advocates for, who don’t always represent the groups they purport to represent, not just advocates of, and that kind of distinction needs to be made as well. Pardon the editorial we, if you will, I was being rhetorical.

  2. That’s a good distinction for everyone to keep in mind. Who are the advocates of and for people institutionalized or otherwise imprisoned for schizophrenia? Have these people learned anything useful by watching the public discourse around childhood vaccines and autism rights?

    • Well, there are some advocates who are more advocates for the families of people labeled mentally ill than they are advocates for the labeled mentally ill themselves, and then there are ex-patient advocates. We are dealing with people who in some cases have been abjudged by a court of law as lacking the capacity to act on their own behalf. Does this mean they actually lack capacity? This asks for another judgement call, and as civil commitment cases are not criminal cases, there are due process issues to consider, too, as the burden of proof is less than in criminal cases. Some advocates are lawyers, and we know what they say about crooked members of that profession. Instances where sane people have been commited for convenience and/or maliscious reasons by other family members to get them out of the way have undoubtedly taken place, but these cases are not resolved by a DNA test.

      Although I’m not an expert on autism by any means, I’m willing to offer my two cents on the subject. I understand there is much question as to whether vaccines have anything whatsoever to do with the development of autism in children. I also understand that the rate of autism in this country is increasing at a rate too high to have anything but some kind of environmental explanation behind it. I have heard some mention of mercury intake as another possible source for the development of autism. Much research will have to take place first before anybody can get to the bottom of just what the environmental factor might be. I question whether some examples of so called high functioning autism should be labeled autistic at all.

  3. I’m empathetic with those who are worried about vaccines causing autism, meaning I think I understand bits and pieces of why Jenny McCarthy is so vehemently against vaccines. I also think vaccine opponents are wrong. Three enlightening things to read on that topic:

    1. The Autism Rights Movement
    2. A Broken Trust: Lessons from the Vaccine–Autism Wars
    3. [read “flaws” as “variants”:] http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2009/06/researchers-minor-genetic-flaws-may-combine-to-cause-autism.ars

    Regarding schizophrenia, what can I read to better understand where ex-patient advocates are coming from?

    • MindFreedom International is an human rights organization at the forefront of the revolution in mental health care. Its director, David Oaks, is a thirty year veteran of the struggle to win those rights. I am personally connected to this organization through its Florida affiliate.

      1. MindFreedom International

      Robert Whitaker’s book Mad In America is very good and informative piece of investigative journalism. Well worth the read. You can also learn a lot just by exploring his website.

      2. Mad In America

      The Center for Psychiatric Rights out of Anchorage, Alaska, CEO lawyer Jim Gottstein, is actively engaged in legal battles and court cases defending the constitutional rights of people facing forced treatment.

      3. PsychRights

      Daniel Fisher, the director of the National Empowerment Center, has done much work with political leaders in Washington, D.C. to bring about positive change in the mental health field.

      4. National Empowerment Center

  4. Oops, please excuse the broken formatting on link #3.

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