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Rethinking Thomas Insel

Every time I read a statement from the current director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Thomas Insel, I have to meditate on how good it would be if the NIMH were to hire a new director. His speech at the 2011 APA convention bash in Honolulu was apparently no exception. Psychiatric News has an article on the affair, Brain, Gene Discoveries Drive New Concept of Mental Illness.

Insel said psychiatric research today promises to produce a true science of the brain based on three core principles (see Points to Remember):

• Mental disorders are brain disorders.
• Mental disorders are developmental disorders.
• Mental disorders result from complex genetic risk plus experiential factors.

A few corrections are called for here.

1. Mental disorders are not brain disorders. Brain disorders are brain disorders.
2. Mental disorders are not developmental disorders. Developmental disorders are developmental disorders.
3. Speculations about the source of mental disorders are just that, speculations.

He draws some pretty peculiar conclusions from research in DNA.

One of the most surprising findings from the Human Genome Project has been that psychiatric disorders, unlike common medical illnesses, appear to be the result of extremely rare, but highly penetrant—or potent—genetic variations. And these variations are not associated with any specific illness, but with a variety of phenotypes recognized as mental disorders, Insel said.

Dr. Insel wants us to think a mental disorder is a brain disorder. This isn’t just semantic confusion, its definitional confusion. This is New Psych Speak talking. This is Big Brother Big Sister therapeutic nanny state propaganda. Brain is no more mind than ‘war is peace’. Perhaps a more apt analogy would be to confuse a radio with the music it plays. They are not synonymous.

After making mental disorders out to be common medical illnesses, he would base these common medical illnesses on rare genetic variations. If these common medical illnesses were based on rare genetic variations they wouldn’t be common medical illnesses. I think we’ve got a long ways to go before we can say a common mental disorder is caused by a rare genetic variation. On the other hand, I think we can safely say that every individual on earth is the result of his or her own rare genetic variation.

“Rethinking mental illness means changing the emphasis so that you make sure the worst outcomes don’t happen,” he said. “We need to ask the question, How does variation in the genome lead to changes in particular neuronal circuits, which in turn bias the way an individual deals with emotional regulation?”

Dr. Insel is confusing the thought process with the organ of thought again. If genetics explains everything then “the worst outcome” has already occurred. Research, at pains to find an organic explanation, is pursuing the genetic angle. In the process of trying to lay it all on the genome, this same research is having to bow to environmental factors more and more. Perhaps eventually the genetic factor is going to count for less and less, that is to say, perhaps the problem wasn’t so organic to begin with.

7 Responses

  1. Thoughts are deeds. Words are acts. if you don’t engage in crimestop now, the Thought Police will be at your door. Doubleplusungood.

  2. It is stupid or evil? Look at the guy who invented the lobotomy. Everyone(doctors) agreed brain damage was a good thing for the patient. Lobotomy was given the Nobel prize 1949. It is the same as pulling the wings off of a fly and expecting it to fly, or cutting the legs off a frog and expecting it to jump. It seems just stupid to me, yet it got the Nobel prize for the results?
    Someone is brave(or stupid) enough to claim to have a solution, everyone beleives the claimant , because they have nothing better?
    The sums of money being made from legal drugs being sold , makes psychiatry evil, just like the executives of tobacco companies who swear in court ” I do not believe tobacco to be addictive” or harmful of whatever. The psychiatrist has the correct answers, and when reporters ask questions they ask the psychiatrist for the correct answers. The drugs are not addictive and they do not harm the brain. Like ECT doesnt harm the brain, like lobotomy doesnt hurt the brain , it just severs some un-necessary connections in the brain..

    • Yo markps2. I think we’ve talked about this before. I think evil and stupidity are pretty much the same thing.

    • Sometimes you have to be a little diplomatic. I don’t think arguing that biological minded psychiatrists are stupid or evil is going to help our cause very much. I think instead we have to show how their theories are not grounded in good science. No “mental disorder” has ever been discovered in a biological sense. What better argument do you have? Ask to be shown a “mental disorder”, and you are likely to be shown another human being. Ask for symptoms, and you are going to get a list of unwanted behaviors. What kind of science is that? Research project after research project is dedicated to asserting that the premises behind the research are not premises. Where is the “mental disorder”? They just don’t know. What do you get?. ‘This is not a myth, that is a myth’ bullshit. The new religion is science as they see it but, and this is the gist of the problem, science is not a religion. Science is a method for determining truth, and this is exactly where they fall flat on their faces. Mesmer had his method, and these new scientists have their methods, but really they haven’t traveled very far from Mesmer. If you can convince a lot of people that they have something “wrong” with them that only you can unravel, well, then you’ve got a career. This is how confidence men and women make their living.

      Much psychiatric treatment throughout history has been harmful. Some doctors today have this notion that certain areas of the brain need to be destroyed if some people are ever to get “well”. I personally don’t see how, by way of analogy, hobbling along on one leg and crutches beats having two perfectly good legs, but some people have even come to agree with these doctors. I am not one of those people.

      • Sure. Diplomacy, politeness etc have their place. And that’s the way I begin with people. Firstly it’s my natural disposition and secondly it’s prudent up to a point. I like myself, I like people and I like to get along.

        So I begin this way, even with shrinks. It’s possible that after some conversation the shrink might say that she/he has reconsidered their apparent position and is about to embark on an honest career elsewhere in medicine or another field.

        Such is my experience and ability that I can quickly establish whether or not these people are morally and intellectually destitute.

        I have seen some meagre signs of the barest possibility of redemption amongst some very few workers in the field of state paid psychiatry. Some three or four out of hundreds.

        So generally it is quickly established by means of pure and irrefutable logic that these people are lifelong, or at least almost certain to be lifelong, scum. Once it’s established that a person is an irredeemable scumbag I feel that is is indeed prudent for the sake of rock solid consistency to hate and express my hatred for that person with all the power and ability that I have.

  3. Insel, like a lot of others, thinks that a few dubious speculations add up to a fact. Plus wishing really hard for it to be true.

    There’s a guy here, Prof Chris Chamberlain of RMIT, who recently published a study done on homeless people and mental illness.

    He concluded that the rate of “mental illness” amongst the homeless was not particularly high. I think his estimate was about 13%.

    OK, let’s not quibble about whether or not even those 13% really have a mental illness, it’s enough that his study flies in the face of the garbage spouted by shrinks, social workers and various other imbeciles that would have you believe that maybe 75% of homeless people have a mental illness. The idiot public like to believe that homelessness is caused by mental illness and the politicians foster this belief.

    Chamberlain, sensible chap that he is, suggests that the so called symptoms of so called mental illness are likely to be the result of circumstances, fears and hardships.

    He was on TV (once and for about 30 seconds). I just about fell off my chair seeing someone say something sensible on TV.

    • I agree. It is not unheard of for a homeless person to go into jail, or even into a mental institution, for three square meals and roof over his or her head. You may not receive food and shelter in some such instances unless you feign “mental illness”. Cops have historically considered harassing homeless people a part of their job. Does this mean that “mental illness” and criminality are related to homelessness? Emphatically, no.

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