The Science and Pseudoscience of Children’s Mental Health

Sharna Olfman, PhD
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Over the past two decades, there has been a meteoric rise in the number of children – now estimated to be 1 in 6 – diagnosed and treated for a range of psychological disturbances including ADHD, autism, mood disorders, and learning disabilities. Explanations in the popular media tend to polarize around two viewpoints:

  1. Childhood mental illnesses are caused by genetically influenced chemical imbalances in the brain. Magic bullet cures will come in the form of drugs that correct these imbalances in much the same way that insulin cures diabetes. Greater awareness and improved diagnostics have lead to the spike in incidence rates.
  2. We need to let kids be kids. Children by definition are inattentive and moody, and we have to let them run and play, and stop pathologizing normal behaviors in order to drug them into silence for the convenience of quiet classrooms and orderly households.

The truth is, neither of these perspectives tell the whole story. Without question, some children are diagnosed unnecessarily because their behavior is inconvenient to the adult world. In All Work and No Play and Childhood Lost, I described pathogenic trends in American culture that undermine children’s psychological health, such as developmentally insensitive school systems, the disappearance of creative play in early childhood, and screen technologies that remove them from essential developmental tasks and immerse them in violent and sexualized worlds. When you place children in environments that undermine their development, inevitably, some will “not fit in,” and they may find themselves labeled with ADHD, or a learning disability, or a mood disorder.

At the same time, many children are struggling with very real symptoms ranging from impulsivity and learning challenges to panic and rage; they are not merely “unique,” “quirky,” or “willful” and it is deeply frustrating and demoralizing to parents who are looking for help and guidance and who are judged as inadequate parents who “can’t control their kids.” It is not outrageous to suggest that a child’s developing brain might be disordered in some way, just as any other organ in the body might be, and that the solutions lies in correcting that disorder.

So which is it? Do we need to fix children’s disordered brains or do we need to let kids be kids? In other words, do solutions lie in fixing their biology or fixing their environments? Or as psychologists like to say, is this a problem of nature or nurture? My latest edited book: The Science and Pseudoscience of Children’s Mental Health (Praeger, 2015) stipulates that we are asking the wrong question. Pitting Nature v. Nurture is an outmoded dichotomy that has been replaced in serious scientific circles by the science of Epigenetics; put simply, understanding that environments, whether they be cellular or social, can activate or silence genes which in turn have a profound effect on brain development. In chapter 3 of Science and Pseudoscience, Neurobiologist Richard Francis provides an overview of the field of epigenetics:

How is it that our environment can affect our genes? That idea seems incongruous. This seeming incongruity reflects a basic misperception about how genes influence human development, a misperception popularized not only in the media, but by many geneticists as well. Recognizing the role of environment in regulating gene behavior unleashes enormous potential for understanding children’s mental health and developing interventions ranging from diet to relationships, which in turn alter gene expression. The standard view – which focuses on identifying the “ADHD” gene or gene sequence, for example, with a view to intervening at the level of the gene, without any consideration of the role of environment – is shortsighted and fundamentally flawed.

DNA has come to be conceived as the instructor of development[.] … From an epigenetic perspective, genes are as much instructed as instructors. I have used the metaphor of a theatrical production to distinguish the executive gene view from that of an epigenetically informed view of genes as they function in the cell (microcosm) and development (macrocosm). From the perspective of the executive gene, DNA functions as the director of the theatrical production, proteins as the actors, and all other biochemicals as the stage hands. From an epigenetic perspective, in contrast, DNA, proteins, and everything else interact more as an ensemble cast.

The science of epigenetics has taught us that when we radically change children’s environments from time spent outdoors to hours sitting in front of screens, from foods that grow in the ground to food that is processed in a laboratory from clean air, soil and water to air, soil and water that is saturated with tens of thousands of man made chemical toxins – 1,000 of which have been targeted as neuro or brain toxins – that these environments powerfully impact gene expression, and brain development.

In a recent article written for the Lancet, internationally renowned environmental health experts Philip Landrigan and Phillipe Grandjean describe the chemical soup that our children are swimming in as causing nothing less than a global silent pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity. Rates of childhood illness have spiked dramatically in the last couple of decades. Everything from childhood cancers and asthma to learning disabilities and autism are on the rise. For example, in the 1970s, Autism was diagnosed in one of every 10,000 children. Today it is diagnosed in 1 in 63 children and in 1 in 42 boys. The human genome does not evolve quickly enough to explain these rapidly changing statistics, but we have changed children’s environments radically and so we are obliged to consider the impact of these highly unnatural environments on genetic expression and the development of the exquisitely complex and fragile human brain from its embryonic beginnings until it is fully mature in late adolescence.

Furthermore, we cannot anchor our understanding of the interplay of genes and environments to the chemical imbalance theory. It has not stood the test of science. The field of psychiatry has itself rejected this theory. There is no compelling scientific evidence that depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, ADHD or Autism are caused by chemical imbalances. This may surprise and confuse you, because the chemical imbalance theory continues to be widely trumpeted in the media and by PCPs and psychiatrists who work directly with patients. And yet, as Robert Whitaker notes in chapter 2 of Science and Pseudoscience, leaders in the field of psychiatry are distancing themselves are publicly renouncing the theory. Here are some quotes that he shares from three leading psychiatrists:

“[E]arlier notions of mental disorders as chemical imbalances are beginning to look antiquated.”

Thomas Insel, Director National Institute of Mental Health, 2011

“Chemical imbalance is sort of last-century thinking … It’s much more complicated than that . . . It’s really an outmoded way of thinking.”

— Joseph Coyle, Editor-in-Chief, Archives of General Psychiatry, 2012

“In the past 30 years, I don’t believe I have ever heard a knowledgeable, well-trained psychiatrist make such a preposterous claim, except perhaps to mock it. … [T]he “chemical imbalance” image has been vigorously promoted by some pharmaceutical companies, often to the detriment of our patients’ understanding. In truth, the “chemical imbalance” notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.

— Ronald Pies, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Psychiatric Times, 2011 

And so it seems that the commonly held belief about the cause of mental illness – the chemical imbalance in the brain – is fundamentally flawed.

If we look at the symptoms that drive the psychiatric diagnoses most commonly given to children, and adults for that matter, they are generally very broad and do not point to the source of the illness any more than a fever does. Lowering a fever can be of vital importance at the acute stage of an illness, but none of us believes that a steady diet of aspirin and cold compresses is in any sense a cure. The same is true of symptoms like hyperactivity, and inattention.

Sometimes professional training actually serves to narrow rather than illuminate our understanding, and we stop seeing the obvious. For example, inattention and hyperactivity are generic states of mind that can have a multiplicity of causes: Poor diet, permissive parenting, hours in front of screen entertainments, an outsized imagination, being bullied, neglect or abuse. And research tells us that prenatal exposures to maternal stress hormones, cocaine or alcohol, and environmental pollutants can epigenetically lead to symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity.

And yet, the belief that all children exhibiting hyperactivity or inattentiveness are suffering from the same well-understood genetically influenced brain disorder called ADHD, with objective diagnostic criteria and well established drug protocols, is widely held by parents and clinicians alike. I would argue that it also more useful to call depression and psychosis symptoms rather than illnesses. To be clear, like fever, symptoms of depression and psychosis can be devastating and life threatening, at which time symptom relief becomes the top priority. But we need to move beyond the idea that everyone who is depressed, or psychotic or hyperactive has the same disease, any more than we would assume that everyone who has abdominal pain, or headache or fever does. In so doing, we can begin to address the underlying causes rather than just staunching the wound with a tourniquet.

In light of psychiatry’s own disenchantment with the chemical imbalance theory, it is still legitimate to argue that while psychiatric drugs don’t cure illnesses per se, they may provide much needed symptom relief, and because they are vetted by the FDA, they are safe to use. In fact however, the FDA only requires two clinical trials – which by the way are designed and funded by the drug companies who make them – that show that the drug has a statistically greater effect than a placebo regardless of whether these statistical differences have any clinical significance and regardless of how many other clinical trials for the same drug fail to show a difference.

Harvard University professor Irving Kirsch’s review of the research on the efficacy of antidepressants reveal that while the effect of antidepressants as compared with placebo statistically significant, the difference is nonetheless so small, that it doesn’t translate into a therapeutic improvement. Also, this statistical difference is attributable to the fact that antidepressants have a host of side effects unlike placebo pills. Therefore, most patients in these trials “break blind” meaning that they can guess whether they are on an actual medication or not, which affects their expectations. This doesn’t rule out the possibility that some people experience symptom relief from their medication, and as long as they’re informed about possible adverse effects, of course it’s appropriate that they continue to use their medication. However, it’s a different matter with children who have cannot give consent.

Meanwhile, outstanding research from many scientific disciplines has led to deeper understanding of childhood psychological disturbance and paved the way for more effective treatments. But this science is conveniently placed in a box called “alternative medicine,” which for many is a euphemism for junk science. The irony is that it is the chemical imbalance theory that represents junk science. How has psychiatry – with its history of insulin coma therapy, lobotomy, shock therapy and today, the wholesale treatment of millions of children with ineffectual and dangerous drugs for questionable diagnoses – become the gold standard against which other disciplines and treatment approaches are measured?

The belief in the “chemical imbalance” and the “bad gene” as the cause of children’s mental illness lives on as a powerful cultural myth. It is stoked by the pharmaceutical industry which has identified children as a fertile market for its products, and by the health insurance industry seeking an easy and cheap solution to complex psychological issues with multifaceted causes. Personal, family and cultural factors, as well as more compelling biological explanations are swept under the rug if they don’t result in increased drug sales and the promise of a quick fix. We might dismiss this as “business as usual” in corporate America if the stakes weren’t so high. As I have described in my last three books, No Child Left Different, Bipolar Children, and Drugging Our Children, the drug cocktails that millions of children are consuming damage their developing brains and bodies while the real source of their suffering remains untreated. But this does not negate the value of scientific research.

The Science and Pseudoscience of Children’s Mental Health exposes the myth of the chemical imbalance and the bad gene and introduces the science of epigenetics as a compelling conceptual framework for understanding the science of children’s mental health. It presents research on the importance of high quality prenatal and early childhood care in fostering healthy brain development and mental health from a multidisciplinary, epigenetic perspective. Authors present research that sheds light on the impact of neurotoxins such as heavy metals and pesticides, as well as the salutary effects of micronutrients. The underpinnings of autism spectrum disorder and concussion syndrome are explored from a functional neurology perspective, which views the brain as a complex, dynamic system with much greater plasticity than we have heretofore understood, opening the door to breakthroughs in diagnosis and treatment.

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27 COMMENTS

  1. While I agree with most of this article, this buzzword of “epigenetic” really bothers me. There is nothing new in saying that people’s behavior is determined by both”nature” and “nurture.” This was a big issue fifty years ago when I was in a couple of graduate programs in psychology, and it is a big issue today. But it is also pretty obvious. Just change “nature” to “genes” and there you are, a great new scientific discovery (sarcasm intended).

    All this “epigenetic” stuff is just a renaming of nature versus nurture, and really, it is pretty obvious. I don’t think people should take academic writing all that seriously. Writing like this confirms to me that I made the right choice when I dropped out of grad school. Clearly I was never cut out to be an academic.

    • The science of epigenetics is rich and calls for more complex and holistic thought, and more and better questions. It’s the way that psychiatry and other fields have tried to adopt it in their research for genetic causation for diseases and quick-fixes, and big grants (because it seems so sciency) that’s given it a bad name.

          • I’m not sure there is any strong understanding of epigenetics really. Epigenetics, the trendy buzz word. as Ted puts it, partners with neuro, that other trendy buzz word, as in neuro-science, neuro-psychiatry, neuro-philosophy, neuro-this, and neuro-that, part and parcel of bio-bio-bio-psychiatry. Selling “disease” (i.e. “bad genes” the concept), sells treatment (i.e. drugs). When we’re in some danger of vanishing into brain and genetic theory and research, its good to keep a map and a clock at hand so that you can identify where you actually are in space and in time.

  2. Epigenetics is the word researchers, with a particularly heavy investment in genetics, use when they are forced to admit what the rest of us have known all along, chiefly, that we aren’t completely determined by our genes.

    I have a problem with this matter of preying on people’s insecurities and selling “disease” with such reckless abandon, especially when these “diseases” are being sold to the parents of small children. As far as I’m concerned, it just means more punishing of the innocent, and further exoneration of the guilty. Is this another instance of the sins of parents being visited on their children? I think so. When it comes to parents, labeling a child as “defective”, or otherwise “bad”, is a big error, fault, or crime, if not sin, in my book. I would love to see less of it taking place, not more.

  3. There is simply no separation between nature and nurture. Nurturing babies is in our nature. Babies with “mental illness” are most likely not getting their most basic needs met, and to not focus on getting that baby’s most basic needs met before considering anything else to be the problem is gross and criminal neglect in my book.

    I think the lion’s share of the problem with this false dichotomy of nature/nurture, is that we don’t have the vocabulary to speak without it. Brain/body/mind/society….— self? There is no operative word with which to speak of this casually or scientifically, so we waste a lot of time wallowing in an argument that shouldn’t exist.

      • I guess MIA is reaching a turning point. There indeed were executions following the nuremberg trials, we do indeed have capital punishment in most states in the country for the most heinous of crimes. I would consider killing children for profit and ruining millions of children’s brains to be a heinous crime. But I guess I discovered where the line is drawn at MIA — we can not discuss issues of justice as if psychiatrists were guilty of REAL crimes deserving the same punishment as other real crimes.

        • I will summarize the points I had made in the deleted post:

          1: There are victims of childhood drugging whose lives have been totally ruined, permanent brain damage induced neurological disorders, including movement disorders, making it impossible for them to move on with their life even if they were to work really hard to, because the handicaps created by the brain damage don’t go away. Even if the reasons they were drugged to begin with were discovered as brain illnesses and a cure were created, they would still have to suffer their damaged brains.

          Thus;

          2: Child drugging is absolutely serious. The damage is permanent and can be literally disabling for the rest of their lives.

          3: Psychiatrists should face punishment for the needless harms they profit from creating. I’ve made this point dozens of times here at MIA; that some effort should be made to stop trying to debate them and start working on nuremberg-esque trials instead. After all, Whitakers books are full of historical documentation revealing how psychiatry is not open to change or honest debate, and how leaders in the field knew every step of the way that what they were doing was dishonest and self-serving. Culpability as far as I’m concerned. Up to this point, this sort of information has only been used to try to lure skeptics into considering the possibility that the conventional wisdom may be wrong as psychiatry may be corrupt. I think it should instead be used to prove that crimes against humanity have been committed.

          My comment began with:

          “However, it’s a different matter with children who have cannot give consent.”

          And who have to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives.

          And ended with:

          It really is a serious issue. There are a lot of people like me out there, whose parents just aren’t as supportive, who just wound up drugged into a virtual coma and stuck in a group home. History should, and most probably will, look back on them no different than we look back on Jews in the holocaust.

          Indeed, when most people who were damaged and abused by psychiatry as a child would begin to lash out or suffer from the abuse of it, they’d just be forced or coerced onto more drugs and abuse or at the far end of the extreme be made a ward of the state and be put in a group home somewhere and forcibly drugged for the rest of their miserable life. They are out there. I’m sure there are hundreds of thousands at least, and more on the way… more being created every single day.

          This comment will appear on my blog. Delete this one, and I’m sure it will come to haunt MIA in the future.

          • Being held accountable for one’s harmful acts is an enormous deterrent against wrongdoing. However, there are virtually no consequences for “physicians” who foist toxic, brain-damaging chemicals and ECT on vulnerable people and defenseless children! This must change!
            In 2015, with overwhelming evidence everywhere in the public domain, there is absolutely no excuse to still be prescribing Ritalin, Prozac, Risperdal, Klonopin, etc., to 8-year-olds who don’t sit still in school! If doctors faced consequences for continuing these atrocities, it would end overnight!

          • I did not see the removed comment. I will second that discussion of issues of justice is not against MIA policies. This is a place for the development of precisely that discussion and, hopefully, the crafting of better arguments – for which the presence of people to have the discussion is helpful. Invective against individuals, ad hominem attacks, and, basically, ranting, is not conducive to this.

            If you feel that a specific person is guilty of something, this just isn’t the place to do anything about it. In fact, attacking them here is counterproductive at best. It just isn’t going to accomplish anything, and does destroy what MIA might hope to accomplish; the development of elaborated, cogent, effective arguments on these issues. When people show up and angrily represent the mainstream view badly, it certainly doesn’t further the case for the medical model, either.

            If you have a case to make against an individual, this simply isn’t the place for it. It’s not going to do any good. That case should be made elsewhere, where it might. That is not the same as shutting down the discussion. That is trying to make it more productive.

            Also, taunting us is unproductive. Threatening “Delete this one, and I’m sure it will come to haunt MIA in the future” is very inconsiderate of the work we, and especially Emmeline, put in. The fact is that putting something like that in a comment is kind of a poison pill; we could and probably should remove the whole post. And in fact we don’t remove pieces of comments, because we’ve found that editing comments is worse than removing the whole thing and asking people to repost them with editing, as you did above. But putting taunts like that at the end is just, frankly, exasperating. Apparently Emmeline decided to let it stand, but I feel the need to say something about it.

          • I did register with a valid email address. Since I have no social contacts and no money to spend online to receive receipts, they die in 6 months of not receiving anything. Are you asking me to create another email address so you can tell me why you deleted my comment — a comment that is virtually identical to at least dozens of others I’ve left here that weren’t deleted?

          • Jeffrey, yes, I am asking you to add a valid email address to your account, because that is a requirement for posting comments here. I am not going to continue to discuss moderation issues in the comment section — that’s not what the comment section is for.

  4. “Epigenetics” is simply the discovery of how our body adapts to our environment. Why it was ever a question that our body adapts to our environment is what I find baffling. Human survival in so many different climates and niches happens solely because we’re the most adaptable species on the planet. It is only economics and ideological rigidity that ever made the “genetics only” argument seem viable.

    It is also interesting to ask why even those still believing in the nature/nurture dichotomy would focus all of their energy on genetic inheritance, when that is the one thing we have absolutely no control over. Why not focus on the environment, which contains thousands and thousands of possible variables that we actually can change?

    — Steve

    • All that needs to be done, really is for the field to admit that all those (mostly eugenicist) twin studies on genetics and “mental illness” are bunk, then the rest could unravel from there. The twin studies do not deserve “gold standard” status anymore than RCTs; but, oh they do hang on— nasty little relics.

    • “‘Epigenetics’ is simply the discovery of how our body adapts to our environment. Why it was ever a question that our body adapts to our environment is what I find baffling.”

      Me, too. I had thought eugenics was discredited decades ago.

      “Why not focus on the environment, which contains thousands and thousands of possible variables that we actually can change?” Perhaps, that’s too complicated? Plus one of the apparent functions of psychiatry, historically and now, seems to be maintaining the status quo for the “warrior elite.”

      Best of luck with your new book, Sharna. Personally, as one who had “bipolar” created with a “safe smoking cessation med” / antidepressant. Then had psychosis created with a child’s dose of Risperdal / a neuroleptic:

      “neuroleptics … may result in … the anticholinergic intoxication syndrome … Central symptoms may include memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, hallucinations, psychosis, delirium, hyperactivity, twitching or jerking movements, stereotypy, and seizures.”

      I believe drugging children with psychotropic drugs is morally wrong. And the medical community doesn’t know enough about how the brain works, or what the actual effects of their drugs are, to be doing this. And I believe psychiatry is basically all about iatrogenic illness creation for profit, and has very little, if any, basis even in “genetics.”

      But, of course, nature and nurture are both relevant. How odd the medical community is only now just realizing this. I had thought this was common sense.

  5. As long as their is poverty instead of living wage right livelihood.
    As long as there are vaccinations instead of homeopathy.
    As long as their is ADA guideline dentistry instead of wholistic dentistry (with ceramic restoration instead of metals, abolishment of mercury installed anywhere in the body,no root canals, and prevention and proper treatment of cavitations, plus other advanced techniques not sanctioned by the American Dental Association
    As long as so many spray so many poisons to kill insects where children play.
    As long as psychiatry exists
    As long as the primary care physician is not a Traditional Naturopath and coverd by insurance
    As long as as 65 % of what medical doctors do is bogus including supporting psychiatry and prescribing psychiatric drugs like a Columbian drug cartel prescribing cocaine accept the medical doctors and the psychiatrists along with the pharma cartel are far more dangerous . We would be better off with heroin and cocaine and marijuana sold over the counter then with these basically greeded out credentialed yahoos called AMA doctors or APA psychiatrists and ADA dentists.
    There is not even enough room to go on with this list.
    Ask yourselves why don’t the Amish children have all this ADHD etc?
    http://www.MercuryJustice.org
    Look up Dr Rau
    Look up Paracelsus Klinik
    Look up Generation Rescue
    See the book Healthy Gaians

  6. I liked the start of this article but then it went off on epigentics, which as other commentators have written is a popular term that is badly explained and then used in vaugue ways to justify …… something.

    It also said that the pollutants from our industrialised world might be effecting childhood behaviour and is probably effecting childhood, and adult, medical conditions. Well I have asthma and air quality certinaly effects that and bad air qulity in the UK is leading to a rise in deaths from respiritory disease. However I know of no known studies that show that pollution is leading to a rise in beavioural and emotional problems in children. The chemical imbalance theories of mentall illness are wrong and discredited, as the author points out, however they were built up on what sounded like viable spectulation and pushed by drug company marketing departments. The pollution theory of mental distress also sounds like viable specultation but without proof it will rely on someone’s marketing for it to be taken up.

    The article also uses the diagnosis Autism, but some experts have said Autism is not a valid diagnosis and that the way it has been defined has grown since the diagnosis first came into being. There needs to be some more reliable way of measuring behavior before it can be tied into a cause such as pollutants.

    So overall the article has some interesting ideas debunking modern child psychiatry, and that is something I welcome, but then introduces some ideas of other potential causes but has little foundation for those assertions.

    An approach I would welcome more would be to look at known correlations between distess and social factors such as the degree of inequality in a country and all kinds of distress, including distress in children, or how violence and other traumas effect child behaviour and emotions.

  7. Thanks for this article, Sharna. I thought it was very incisive, concise and well written. It resonated with me in terms of what I’ll call “real world balance”–meaning it avoids posturing in a dogmatic way that essentially denies the real life experiences of some in order to maintain “purity” of an ideological viewpoint. I am incensed by the degree to which i see this kind of one-sided posturing happening by the promoters of the “chemical imbalance” theory of mental illness–those who, unfortunately still hold most of the power in the mental health industry despite the lack of valid scientific support for their ideology. I think those of us who are very critical of mainstream psychiatry (justifiably) need to scrupulously avoid that same error. We do not have conclusive proof that there is NEVER some kind of a legitimate brain disorder behind extremes in behavior, thinking or emotion, and to pretend that we do detracts from our overall credibility. As you say in one of your opening paragraphs,

    “It is not outrageous to suggest that a child’s developing brain might be disordered in some way, just as any other organ in the body might be, and that the solutions lies in correcting that disorder.”

    Of course, you go on to make clear your overriding concern about the inappropriate diagnosing and overmedicating of children in our culture.

    I see there’s a lot of discussion, apparently mostly critical, about “epignetics”. That’s an issue I haven’t become conversant about and I’m sure it would be good to look into this further. I’m a little concerned that we tend to zero in on the parts of an article that we object to. To me, there is much to like about your perspective. I’m certainly not discounting the objections, and I hope to look more into the issues mentioned.

  8. This is a top article, thanks Sharna.
    Epigenetics explores changing genetic expression and this surely provides hope for treatments and understanding at a deeper level of the person and their environment? I believe that much is possible through this understanding, including non-drug therapies that may show the impact of change on genetic expression. Epigenetics may also provide explanations as to the impact on genetic expression from current drug treatments for mental health conditions. I want to learn more about this and I look forward to reading “The Science and Pseudoscience of Children’s Mental Health”.

  9. Yes, the Nature versus Nurture argument has been around for a very long time, but the genetics argument has supplanted this. Using epigenetics to reinstate those arguments is crucial to enabling the wider public and the political classes to see that genetics-based research is not in and of itself scientifically valid. Sharna’s article is absolutely excellent in its analysis of these issues. There are obvious medical illnesses that can present as `mental illness`, such as Urinary Tract Infections in the elderly, and it is quite astounding how often these basic medical illnesses are misdiagnosed by psychiatrists, in spite of the advice from the Royal College of Psychiatrists that their members should refer patients on to clinical specialists.There is basic incompetence as well as corruption.

    For all those sceptical of the utility of the epigenetic arguments, please check out the CHE’s 2008 Scientific Consensus Statement on Environmental Agents Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders:-
    http://www.healthandenvironment.org/initiatives/learning/r/consensus
    Treating Autism has also put together a fantastic booklet, which gives extensive references to research that backs the assertion made by Sharna that the brain has `plasticity` and that people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders can be treated to improve their overall health and their behavioural and mental functioning – with dietary and nutritional treatments, not psychotropic drugs:-
    http://treatingautism.co.uk/resources/research-science/

    If activists are not prepared to look at the evidence that supports both psychological and medical origins of apparent `mental illness` or `mental disorder`, then they are depriving the movement to reform the mental illness industry of effective campaigning tools and abandoning people with `mental disorder`, such as those with ASD, who are currently included in mental health legislation, irrespective of whether or not they have a `mental illness`.

  10. Sharna – I liked this variation of yours on introducing the approaches to interpreting the novel results of epigenetics. Nice that you thought you could get something positive done by blogging here, I think. My only other intentional introduction to biology proper is with Lewontin, and he really runs hot and cold with the objective value of his discussion. Your coverage of the facts was very even, and if you decide to revamp your presentation in talkshow style I hope that you post that here, too.