"Eleanor Longden started hearing voices when she was 18. She was drugged and hospitalised, then told she was schizophrenic. A psychiatrist even told her she would have been better off with cancer, because it would have been easier to cure. Most people assume mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. But, she argues, mental illness is not random, it is a response to traumas we have been through in the past"
MIA contributor Jonathan Leo, writing for Slate, weighs in on the research that claims to have discovered a genetic basis for schizophrenia. “We now know that biomarkers or specific genes for psychological conditions do not exist, that this research will not lead to magic pharmacological bullets, and that many of our assumptions about mental illness were wrong,” he writes. “The message for the psychiatry community is to rethink how it treats patients, how it allocates research money, and its emphasis on the biological treatments of psychological conditions.”
Last week, the headlines blared: “Schizophrenia breakthrough as genetic study reveals link to brain changes!” We heard that our best hope for treating “schizophrenia” is to understand it at a genetic level, and that this new breakthrough would get us really started on that mission, as it showed how a genetic variation could lead to the more intense pruning of brain connections, which is often seen in those diagnosed with schizophrenia. “For the first time, the origin of schizophrenia is no longer a complete black box,” said one (while admitting that “it’s still early days”). The acting director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) described the study as “a crucial turning point in the fight against mental illness.” But is all this hype justified?
In a study published yesterday, researchers from the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo bring attention to a condition known as neuroleptic-induced deficit syndrome (NIDS) brought on by the adverse mental effects of antipsychotic drugs. They express concern that NIDS can resemble the negative symptoms associated with schizophrenia and psychosis, leading to misdiagnosis and ineffective treatments.
Dutch psychiatrist and epidemiologist, Jim van Os, has renewed his call to drop schizophrenia as a disease classification. “Several recent papers by different authors have called for modernised psychiatric nomenclature, particularly regarding the term ‘schizophrenia’,” he writes in a review for BMJ. “Japan and South Korea have already abandoned this term.”
A recent study published in this month’s issue of Psychiatry Research attempted to examine the impact of an anti-stigma public media campaign in Germany. They focused on changes in public attitudes toward people affected by symptoms associated with depression and schizophrenia as a result of the psychenet- Hamburg Network Mental Health awareness campaign.
In recent months, two teams of researchers in the UK and the US published complementary findings about the epigenetic origins of schizophrenia that have scientific communities who indulge in ‘genetic conspiracy theories’ abuzz. While these results are intriguing, and no doubt involve pathbreaking research methodologies, this line of thought represents a decontextualized understanding both of the symptoms that are typically associated with schizophrenia, and their causes.
A study out of the University of Buffalo explores the use of Narrative Exposure Therapy to treat youth PTSD and substance abuse. “Trauma is like a book on a shelf full of memories that a person has no control over in terms of when or how it is experienced,” says Volpe, PhD, assistant professor in the UB School of Nursing. “Narrative exposure therapy helps reestablish the link between memories that were destroyed by trauma, allowing people to have more control over the book.”
In this month’s issue of Psychological Medicine, researchers from King’s College London found evidence for associations between different types of childhood adversity and specific symptoms associated with psychosis. As current categorical approaches to psychosis and schizophrenia diagnoses come under increasing scrutiny, this study adds support to sociological and psychological theories and treatments.
The Boston Globe reports on the discovery of a newly recognized neurological disease, anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. The disease is believed to be caused when the body’s immune system attacks proteins in the brain associated with the communication of neurons.
PsychCentral covers new research linking social deprivation, population density and inequality with higher rates of psychotic symptoms and diagnoses for schizophrenia. “This is important because other research has shown that many health and social outcomes also tend to be optimal when societies are more equal.”
Revealing the false information provided about psychiatry should cause any thinking person, patient, thought-leader or politician to wonder: “how many otherwise normal or potentially curable people over the last half century of psych drug propaganda have actually been mis-labeled as mentally ill (and then mis-treated) and sent down the convoluted path of therapeutic misadventures – heading toward oblivion?”
In a featured article for Psychiatric Services, psychiatrists from Dartmouth raise the alarm on the increasing numbers of children prescribed dangerous antipsychotic drugs. Despite the fact that data on the safety of long-term use of these drugs in this vulnerable population “do not exist,” the rate of children and adolescents being prescribed antipsychotic drugs have continued to increase over the past fifteen years.
The official voice of the American Psychiatric Association covers the short and long term side-effects of antipsychotics and promotes the use of therapeutic alternatives with children. “Antipsychotics have serious short-term side effects among children, and more extended, longitudinal data on their safety in this particularly vulnerable age group do not exist.”
On Monday, the US Supreme Court declined to hear Johnson and Johnson’s final appeal, forcing the company to pay $124 million for the deceptive marketing of the antipsychotic Risperdal. In 2011, South Carolina ordered the company to pay $327 million for pursuing “profits-at-all-costs” in its efforts to persuade doctors to prescribe their drug, but the fine was lowered to $136 million last year. The company had hoped to argue that the remaining penalties constituted an “excessive fine” and was supported by PhRMA, the Washington Legal Foundation, the Cato Institute and the Chamber of Commerce.
“A little background digging revealed to me that this study is the tip of a new iceberg relative to ADHD diagnosis, stimulant treatment, and risk in adulthood of psychotic mental health disorders or episodes,” Lydia Furman, the associate editor of Pediatrics, writes in her review of the recent MacKenzie et al. study. “The public health impact of this seemingly uncommon group of adverse events is magnified by the high population prevalence of children being treated with stimulants for diagnosis of ADHD, reported as 6.1% of all children ages 4-17 years in 2011.”
“Do they make people less aggressive? Yes, sometimes they do. Will they sedate people? Absolutely. Will they make kids easier to manage? They will,” Robert Whitaker tells Liz Spikol for Philadelphia Magazine. “But I know of no study that shows that medicating these kids long-term will help them grow up and thrive. The developing brain is a very delicate thing. The narrative is that these side effects are mild, and that’s just not true, and that the benefits are well-established, and so often they’re not.”
Readers respond to the New York Times article, “The Treatment of Choice,” about innovative programs for psychosis and schizophrenia that involve patients and their families in treatment decisions. “Narratives of success counter a drumbeat of faulty links of mental illness and violence, inaccuracies which serve only to further stigmatize and isolate individuals with psychiatric illness.”
An international group of researchers from multiple disciplines has published a historical, qualitative, and quantitative investigation into voice-hearing in women. The interdisciplinary project, freely available from Frontiers in Psychiatry, explores how sexism, exploitation, and oppression bear on women’s experiences of hearing voices.
When former NIMH chief Dr. Thomas Insel speaks, people listen. Dr. Insel famously criticized the DSM a couple of years ago for its lack of reliability. He notably broke ranks with the APA by saying there were no bio-markers, blood tests, genetic tests or imaging tests that could verify or establish a DSM diagnosis of schizophrenia, bipolar or schizoaffective disorder. However in a new article he announces research that claims to have found bona-fide physiological markers that identify specific “biotypes” of psychosis. This system could, purportedly, identify a person as possessing a specific biotype of psychosis, instead of a DSM-category diagnosis.
Stimulant medications like Ritalin and Adderall, often prescribed to treat children diagnosed with ADHD, are known to cause hallucinations and psychotic symptoms. Until recently these adverse effects were considered to be rare. A new study to be published in the January issue of Pediatrics challenges this belief, however, and finds that many more children may be experiencing psychotic symptoms as a result of these drugs than previously acknowledged.
Researchers from the City College of New York and Columbia University published a study this month testing the hypothesis that people diagnosed with schizophrenia treated long-term with antipsychotic drugs have worse outcomes than patients with no exposure to these drugs. They concluded that there is not a sufficient evidence base for the standard practice of long-term use of antipsychotic medications.
Benedict Carey at the New York Times covers the push for new programs that emphasize supportive services, therapy, school and work assistance, and family education, rather than simply drug treatment.
We are profoundly social beings living not as isolated individuals but as integral members of interdependent social systems—our nuclear family system, and the broader social systems of extended family, peers, our community and the broader society. Therefore, psychosis and other forms of human distress often deemed “mental illness” are best seen not so much as something intrinsically “wrong” or “diseased” within the particular individual who is most exhibiting that distress, but rather as systemic problems that are merely being channeled through this individual.
A new NIH-funded study suggests that children from low-income environments are more likely to have neurological impairments. The researchers claim that these neurodevelopmental issues are “distinct from the risk of cognitive and emotional delays known to accompany early-life poverty.”
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