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Treating Diseased Brains

A lot of confusion and misinformation about mental health is being published and spread over the internet these days. Here is one article, for instance, from Canada’s Times Colonist demanding that Attitudes must change towards mental illness.

98 per cent of people with mental health conditions have never committed an antisocial or violent act.

People in mental health treatment are more apt to be the victims of violent crime than they are the perpetuators of such crime. I would agree with that statement entirely. Fascists in NAZI Germany prepared for slaughtering the Jews by killing off those they saw as ‘mentally defective’, and ‘unfit to breed’. This thing about blaming people with psychiatric histories for violent crime is pure smokescreen and baloney. Blaming serial killings and mass murders on mental illness is a result of moral zealots and cops over dosing on media hype. The scapegoat’s scapegoat has always been a mental illness label.

Lack of public pressure due to false beliefs about mental illness is a major reason why we do not have a fully funded supportive mental health system. Nobody wants to go to bat for people that they perceive as personally defective and flawed.

The first sentence of the above paragraph makes absolutely no sense literally. Sink or swim, the economy just collapsed, and we can’t afford to subsidize every slacker, whiner, and whacko that comes along. Somebody is trying to tell me that people have no control over slacking, whining, and wackiness, and common sense tells me that this just isn’t the case. If there was a genetic base to welfare fraud, it wouldn’t be called fraud, would it? You tell me.

People need to arm themselves with the facts. Mental illnesses are not character flaws or personal defects but real genetic and biochemical illnesses. Brain scientists have even discovered genetic markers for many chronic mental disorders. PET scans have revealed the actual affected brain areas. Studies have shown that with proper treatment, the brain can fix itself.

Let’s look at these illusions, these would-be facts, a little closer, one by one.

1. “Mental illnesses are not character flaws or personal defects but real genetic and biochemical illnesses.”

What if I wrote “mental illnesses” were genetic defects and biochemical flaws rather than character or personal illnesses? Would that work? And then there are, described in the DSM-IV, personality disorders? Are they somehow different? Saying something is true doesn’t make it so, no matter how many times you reiterate it. Science is a method for testing such assertions. One thing I would need, in order to make this statement hold water, would be research pro and con on the effects of the environment and society as well as on the genetics and biochemistry of the matter. You have your assignment, now go do the research. I’ve got time.

2. “Brain scientists have discovered genetic markers for many chronic mental disorders.”

Scientists haven’t found a ‘mental illness’ gene whatsoever. Now, because they can’t find that gene, they say it must be clusters of genes. Looking at these clusters of genes wouldn’t give us ‘mental illness’ really. These clusters of genes would be showing us the propensity to develop a ‘mental illness’. Now tell me it’s going to be easy to pin down a propensity.

I read where scientists have found a genetic link for 2% of the schizophrenic population. The schizophrenic population is about 2% of the total population. These scientists are saying we’ve got 2% of 2% down. That’s no smoking gun. That’s a gun barrel alright, but the smoke is entirely imaginary. If you get 2% on any exam in the world, you’ve flunked.

I also hear that these scientists estimate that ‘mental illness’ is 70% genetic, and the rest is environmental. Okay. Now they’ve got 68% of that genetic biochemical link still unaccounted for. Good luck. Looks like you’ve got even more research to do.

3. “PET scans have revealed the actual affected brain areas.”

Psychiatrically minded researchers have a way of not distinguishing whether the brain areas so affected are affected by any disease or by the drugs used to treat that disease. This is an important distinction to make. It could be that the cure is worse than the disease. When you have the answer that one, get back to me, I will want to see it.

4. “Studies have shown that with proper treatment, the brain can fix itself.”

I must say, it sometimes looks like we must be somewhat short of a whole person here, but for the sake of the argument, let me hold my tongue. Perhaps, if we carefully and surgically remove the brain, it will fix itself. That is, it should fix itself, if we treat it properly.
I’m only kidding here, in part anyway. The problem is that proper treatment in psychiatric terms usually means treatment solely with psychiatric drugs. Studies of long term treatment results have shown that people in fact do worse on psychiatric drugs than those who are not treated long term with psychiatric drugs.

Oh, darn! So much for that theory.