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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.

4 Responses

  1. The “genes” + “susceptibility” argument, with the genes not even found, is the perfect “have your cake and eat it too” situation for the shrinks. They don’t really want to find a gene.

    Let’s say they found a gene, or a particular combination of genes, that was rare in the general population but present in say 10% of diagnosed schizophrenics. And more compelling, that the 10% were a particular type of schizophrenia. (Remember in the old days there were different types, paranoid, catatonic, hebephrenic etc.) Then they go out into the population of people who have never been diagnosed and look for that gene. Whenever they find the gene they also find that the person is peculiar and that the family have on occasion considered having the person committed or something like that.

    OK you would think that this scenario is exactly what the shrinks say that they will one day be able to show and is the reasoning behind what they currently do. But if they were ever actually able to do this they will not have made a case for “mental illness” they will instead have discovered a hitherto unknown neurological illness.

    • The “susceptability” argument raises questions as to whether the right line investigation is being pursued here. If it’s “susceptability” that is in question, I imagine given harsh enough treatment (think Guy Fawks) 100% of the population would crack. If 100% of the population would crack, everybody is carrying those genes, it’s a…species thing. Apparently, biological medical model psychiatry is dealing with a different species.

      Researchers are seeking what they think is some kind of genetic link between various forms of “serious mental illness”. I think they’ve sort of thrown all schizophrenia into one pot, and then bipolar disorder and major depression are in two other pots. Now they think these genes, or clusters of genes, are related (i.e. the genes that predispose a person to illness A are the same set of genes that predispose a person to illnesses B & C). Convenient, and entirely questionable, this is still begging the question as to what kind of social and environmental forces may have played a contributing, if not a causal, role in the development of what is commonly referred to as “serious mental illness”.

      Much of the motivation behind this research is coming from the pharmaceutical industry. We know that long term treatment with psychiatric drugs is a bad thing recovery-wise. If it’s not the psychiatric drugs, it must be “the disease” and, therefore, the drugs are necessary. You only go there when you’re ignoring a heap of a lot of evidense to the contrary.

      • Yeah, how could you possibly test “susceptibility”. Beat up two people and when one cracks stop the beating. The one that cracked is the one with the mental illness. The one that didn’t is mentally well. But they’d have to be identical and endure identical beatings so that the test had control. But if they are identical they are either both mentally ill or both mentally healthy. So that would mean that they both cracked at the same time. And if so nothing could be concluded unless they tested against another pair. And so ad infinitum.

        So susceptibility is crap and genetics is crap. And that’s the way the frontline shrinks want it. They know that when they are actually face to face with defenseless patients they can make it up as they go. Their crap will be double crap which makes it next to impossible for most people to unravel.

  2. In the 1970s biological medical model psychiatry was more beleagered than it is today. Thomas Szasz, RD Laing and company, psychoanalytic theory, and pop psychology kept more engaging and interpersonal approaches alive. The paradigm has shifted, and now mainstream medical model psychiatry has had much success in equating any criticism of its own ideological autocratic line with what it would have be discredited ways of thinking. This face saving gesture is transparent to anybody who knows the truth, but there are still people who come along with this archaic belief that the authoritarian pitch is the only correct pitch.

    If you read some of the tracts made by the honcho shrinks in this school of psychiatry, you will come to realize that these guys were also the authors for the scripts used by NAMI, the MHA, the NIMH, and suchlike organizations. The idea here is to bully any criticism and free thought into silence. It’s a well’s head of comforting beliefs for people who want to sweep all comprehension and control of the matter under the rug of medical science. This branch of medicine isn’t really medical, nor is it science, it’s pseudo-medical pseudo-science.

    You can’t get any more exacting than in the field of DNA research. Criminals are convicted on evidense that excludes other possible suspects to the billioneth degree. This, I think, is why these psychiatrists are pursuing a genomic link. This is a wishful sort of bid for legitimacy as a science by trying to connect yourself to science at its most exacting. Problem is, there is a hell of a lot of more gray area in diagnostic practice than there is in DNA research. Now the question becomes is that gray area shade (as in shady), or is it the unknown, or is it a mix. Biological psychiatry likes to tell folks that it is on the verge of some kind of scientific break through while emphasizing how little is actually known. When more is known, medical model psychiatry won’t necessarily be the primary beneficiary.

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