Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Comments by Nancy99

Showing 233 of 233 comments.

  • All religions have different types of calming meditation practices that can lead one to exceptionally pleasant, peaceful mind-states, when the mind is not engaged in mental proliferation, and is totally focused on the object of meditation in a relaxed manner. In Eastern religions, these states are referred to as “Samadhi.”

    Many poets and writers describe encountering experiences of calm meditative mind-states, and refer to them as revelations of ecstasy. The English poet William Wordsworth describes these as “happy stillness of the mind,” where he believed that every man could attain the vision of joy and harmony of life in nature, which for him transformed the whole of existence.

    These peaceful calm mind-states have been recorded throughout history in different cultures and are often considered as as mystical experiences. William James and other prominent psychologists (e.g. Maslow and Jung) have hailed mystical experiences considering them to be a sign of health and a powerful agent of integration. Studies have also shown that people who undergo these experiences display lower scores on psychopathology scales and higher psychological well-being.

    So, I think it is very important that these states be not labelled as “pathological.”

  • Why do psychiatrists keep forgetting the *science* of neuroplasticity? The organization of brain circuitry is constantly changing as a result of our experiences. For example, when mice are subjected to various psychological stresses (e.g. if they are restrained) their neurochemicals and their brain changes and these changes are reversible through psychological means (e.g. when these stressed, restrained animals are released, the brain returns to normal).

    Similarly, when people are stressed or get depressed by things that happen to them, their brains change, but these structural changes come back to normal when these issues get addressed. Mental habits also change the brain – for example, mindfulness practices are known to change the structure and function of the brain in positive ways (e.g. increases in gray matter and cortical thickness).
    Instead of focusing on this broader picture, psychiatrists focus only on the brain and think that the brain has to be somehow ‘treated’ with chemicals!

  • Yea – I agree Alex. By the way, I am not too sure what percentage of psychiatrists intends to deliberately harm people. I feel that the way psychiatrists are trained in medical school needs to be blamed more – i.e., students being told that it is all about the brain, to focus on treating the brain and nothing but the brain. Most of these doctors blindly abide by that advice focusing on the nervous system and thinking it is the only way to practice good science – but then there are also those psychiatrist that ‘think out of the box’- as we see at MIA…
    Anyway, this is my opinion.

  • Nocebo effects (effects resulting from ‘negative expectations’) can be very powerful. The following recent randomized study examined how the knowledge of a genetic risk can be physiologically more damaging than having that risk itself – a similar situation can happen for psychiatric conditions:

    Turnwald, B. P., Goyer, J. P., Boles, D. Z., et al. (2019). Learning one’s genetic risk changes physiology independent of actual genetic risk. Nature Human Behaviour, 3(1), 48.

  • Thanks kindredspirit. So – I am assuming you are referring to negative aspects of how mindfulness is taught in mental health treatment settings (where the doctors assume ‘mindfulness’ to be just a tool in their bag), as opposed to MBSR 8-week training courses that were initiated by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn (where mindfulness is considered within its broader meaning). If that’s the case, I would agree with you. To address this issue, I suppose it is best for mental health providers to direct patients to do a full 8-week MBSR course (that explains and goes into details of mindfulness) instead of trying to teach/guide patients themselves using their superficial understanding of mindfulness.

  • Hi kindredspirit,

    I just read your comments. While I agree with some of what you have written, I disagree with several points.

    MBSR practices (as introduced by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn) is not about “shaming people for thinking too much about distressing things” (what you have written). If you carefully read the book of his I mentioned earlier, you will be able to clearly see this for yourself. Also don’t forget that Jon Kabat-Zinn studied under several Zen Buddhist monks (including the monk you mention: Thich Nhat Han) and this monk has fully endorsed his book (in fact he had written the preface to his book).

    You need to remember that there are many people who freeze at the mention of the word ‘religion’ or ‘spirituality’ (especially people who claim that they are “intelligent and scientific minded” and refer to spirituality as “new age mumbo-jumbo”). This is why Jon Kabat-Zinn decided to start MBSR without using any religious or ritualistic context (he explains this well in his book). This way, the Buddha’s universal and profound teachings are available to many people instead of just a handful – and many people have indeed entered spiritual lives after going through MBSR courses. You need to remember that although you like rituals, there are several people who would avoid them at all costs.

    In a recent talk by Jon Kabat-Zinn I listened to, he states that “the Buddha was not a ‘Buddhist’.” What the Buddha did was to analyze the mind in comprehensive detail (i.e., describe how the mind works), and present it to the world – in other words, people refer to teachings of the Buddha as a ‘religion’ only because the teachings are not easy to understand. The teachings are nothing but the ultimate “science of the consciousness.”

    By the way, MBSR courses (the 8-week course) teach many types of meditation, including walking meditation. Also, regarding your statement “over and over and over from every possible angle until you know it inside and out, that’s not ruminating, that’s a hallmark of the mind of a scientist, not a sick person” – you need to remember that there is a HUGE difference between rumination and analytical thinking. Rumination is about repetitive thinking and is not self-directed (the mind does it AUTOMATICALLY) and this is what becomes less with meditation training. I agree that analytical thinking is useful because that is what ultimately leads to wisdom.

    Also, as you state, stopping “rumination” is NOT the end goal of MBSR (but since this aspect is easy to measure, studies often assess this end goal). Here again, if you read the book, you will understand. Further, research has shown that people who go through the 8-week program demonstrate structural changes in their brains – these changes are not just limited to monks.

  • Hi Fiachra: Thanks. I have a passion for mindfulness practices and have studied them very carefully during the last ten years (both theory and practice). I have also personally benefited from them tremendously, and think others can benefit too if only they took time to understand them. Not sure what you mean by ‘official’ but I have a graduate degree in a health-related area. I also teach mindfulness (currently as a volunteer).

  • It looks like you have no idea whatsoever regarding what mindfulness is!!! Mindfulness is never about stopping thinking or about not resolving objective situational issues one maybe facing in life – in fact it is just the opposite! I would suggest that you read Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book “Full Catastrophe Living” – it is a good place to start for someone like you who doesn’t seem to know the basics of mindfulness practices.

    It might also be useful for you to know that most of the time, people ruminate/worry about things that have not happened (and things that may never happen), or about things that have happened to them in the past etc (regrets). When practising mindfulness, one becomes aware of any thoughts and emotions and how they manifest moment by moment in one’s mind stream and this enables one to gradually cultivate self-knowledge and wisdom as well. Studies have also demonstrated that if one proliferates on a thought (it could be anger, depression, anxiety, etc.), these thoughts become more powerful whereas if you mindfully observe thoughts, they become less powerful.

    Additionally, so many studies have demonstrated that mindfulness interventions result in healthy structural and functional changes in the brain and also that improvements in patient’s psychological symptoms CORRELATE with structural changes that happen in the brain.

    I strongly suggest that you learn about these things before you argue in such a superficial manner. Dr. Jon Kabat’s book should be available in your local library – please read it.

  • Exactly. This is why observing thoughts (whatever comes up), and becoming aware of various emotions, etc., that happen to arise in one’s mind makes so much sense. Practicing mindfulness is not about purposefully not thinking about something (what you are saying). Thoughts arise and pass moment by moment in a way that they have been conditioned, etc. Please take a look at the following article – you will then understand the profound theoretical underpinnings of mindfulness practices:

    Karunamuni, N., and Weerasekera, R. (2017). Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom. Current Psychology.

  • I don’t think at all that CBT is as bad as this book claims it to be! This looks like his opinion only – he doesn’t provide any concrete evidence (at least I don’t see it in this article). After all, the main thing an individual experiencing mental issues need is hope, support and other interventions such as training in mind-calming activities. This is in contrast to psychiatric treatments where patients are given disempowering labels that increase stigma (along with psychiatric drugs that do more harm than good in the long-term).

    Also, as I see it, the mindfulness component is the most important component of CBT – perhaps this component should be greatly expanded for all CBT interventions. Mindfulness practices calm the mind, enable one to observe thoughts moment-by-moment and significantly reduce rumination, etc. (note that rumination is a large risk factor for mental health problems). Mindfulness practices also increase eudemonic wellbeing.

  • Thank you for your comment Monica. In my comment, what I tried to convey was that mindfulness is not dangerous or risky IF it is properly understood in terms of what exactly it is, what it is doing and how it can benefit different people in different ways.

    Also it should be noted that lots of research has demonstrated that neurogenesis (the generation of new neurons in the brain) can happen after traumatic brain injuries and also that mindfulness meditation promotes neurogenesis. So, I don’t see any reason to believe that a brain that is ‘heinously injured by drugs’ cannot overcome any damages that may have happened due to drugs.

    Through mindfulness practices, one can even overcome worrisome thoughts like “for me life is heinously bumpy and risky” without letting such thoughts overpower their lives.

    All the best for your potential book!

  • Hi Monica,

    I think you need to know that mindfulness meditation is NOT merely about ‘paying attention,’ although paying attention is an important element of it. Mindfulness meditation is about understanding our subjective experience as well as about developing experiential self-knowledge and wisdom.

    Mindfulness uses a different ‘epistemology’ (‘a way of knowing’) than what biomedicine uses to understand phenomena. Basically, mindfulness is about understanding how our minds work – i.e., the moment-by-moment manifestation of our mind-stream (note that we only experience one thought moment at a time). Through mindfulness we can understand how thoughts can enter our minds through sensory triggers (the five senses or as a stimulus independent thought). We could also get to know how we develop various attachments (through conditioning processes) and how these shape how our feelings manifest, etc. Mindfulness is also about significantly reducing rumination – this is very important considering that rumination is a huge risk factor for mental problems.

    Mindfulness is not dangerous at all and ANYONE can benefit from it, just like how everyone can benefit from physical activities. However, if someone finds that they cannot meditate right away, they can do other practices like mindful walking meditation, yoga, tai chi and even simple physical activities that are carried out mindfully, before starting formal meditation practices. Mindfulness is also known to increase eudemonic wellbeing (you can call it ‘spiritual happiness’). The practice of Mindfulness is also known to bring about favourable changes in the nervous system (I can provide lots of research evidence if you want), just like how physical activities brings about changes in muscle cells.

    Also, I suggest that you read the following article to get a better understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of mindfulness meditation:
    Karunamuni, N., and Weerasekera, R. (2017). Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom. Current Psychology.

    Additionally, I personally find ‘loving-kindness’ meditation to be tremendously beneficial [you can check out this meditation on the internet – it is about directing thoughts of compassion towards yourself and then extending to all people and even to enemies]. Loving-kindness meditation can precede mindfulness meditation.

  • Many drugs are so unnecessarily prescribed (for various conditions) these days – big pharma comes up with drugs often with only profits in mind and as we know, they indulge in various unethical practices (such as selective reporting and data mischaracterization) to get these drugs approved – these drugs must be ultimately getting into our ground water and tap water as well.

    Most of these drugs (although biochemically active) appear to somewhat work only due to the “placebo effect.” For example, meta analyses have shown that most active drugs and placebos have similar effect sizes (especially for health conditions that have continuous outcomes) – see the following reviews:

    Howick J, et al. (2013) Are Treatments More Effective than Placebos? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS ONE 8(5): e62599.

    Kirsch, I. (2014). Antidepressants and the Placebo Effect. Zeitschrift Fur Psychologie. 222, 128-134.

  • I agree Steve McCrea. Also, I think people who offer mindfulness programs should perhaps also offer yoga and tai chi classes for those who feel that they are not yet ready for mindfulness. Even exercises done mindfully appear to be quite effective (as suggested by recent studies). As people engage in these other practices, people need to be told that they are welcome to engage in mindfulness practices whenever they feel ready to do so.

    Buddhist teachings also offer various entry points to meditation as discussed in the ‘four foundations of mindfulness.’ I also think loving-kindness meditation can also go a long way to gradually make someone receptive to standard mindfulness practices. Studies also show that loving-kindness meditation by itself can also be quite powerful (I think they can be especially beneficial for children).

  • Prisoners Dilema: I feel that you don’t understand what mindfulness is – perhaps you can start by reading the Wikipedia page (on mindfulness).

    I agree however that it is not a ‘doing but a happening’ – but, if you simply say that to someone, they are going to be highly confused on how to practice it. This is why it is good to give some guidance to people on how to carry out mindfulness meditation (such as how the ‘mind’ works, etc.).

    By the way, your statement “Meditation is about getting rid of the mind” is your own personal definition – it is not a standard definition. I suggest that you read the reference I suggested as well (Lutz, 2008).

  • Out: this might surprize you, but Buddhism is a “science” – it is the science of the mind (consciousness). I also attend a Buddhist meditation centre (Western) and I have often wondered where the “religion” is in Buddhism. Of course there are rituals like offering flowers and incense (all of which by the way have reflective meaning), but don’t forget that even in modern society, various rituals (i.e., established, ceremonial acts or features) are often carried out for example at weddings, graduation ceremonies, funerals, etc., (that help create community and mutual support). Even shaking hands and saluting are rituals.

    Regarding Kabat-Zinn, I have often felt that he is very honest. So, if you think he is dishonest, you would need to show me some good evidence! In a recent youtube video that I watched, he says he doesn’t call himself Buddhist because different people interpret the term “Buddhist” differently and some people may feel offended if he uses this label.

    In that youtube video, he also says that ‘the Buddha was not a Buddhist,’ which makes a lot of sense to me. The Buddha explained consciousness, without making the assumption that the brain has to be included in all explanations of consciousness, which as we know seem to be an obsession that almost all scientists have nowadays.

  • Out: Can you give me a few specific examples of things that Kabatt-Zinn says that has led you to conclude “his reasoning comes down to semanatics and I find it disingenuous”? You can give me page numbers from the “Full catastrophe Living” book, since I have this book with me too.

    Regarding the “science” of mindfulness – the evidence does not have to come through outcomes of interventions, because several factors (such as the skills of teachers, mode of delivery) can play a role in the effectiveness of interventions. You need to remember that science is also about developing theory, and refining theory. When considering mindfulness practices, we know that our minds naturally tend ruminate a lot (about fears, worries, regrets, etc., along with repetitive thoughts – and this is something that can be directly observed), and mindfulness practices are extremely beneficial to gradually overcome this habit.

    This is especially important considering that many studies have shown rumination is a transdiagnostic risk factor (i.e., having the same underlying mechanism) for the development of various mental health issues. Studies have also shown that mindfulness practices are capable of reducing rumination, and cultivating mindfulness also appears to bring about beneficial structural changes in the brain. All this is additional scientific evidence.

  • Thank you for the clarification, Steve McCrea. Regarding your other comment (relating to Eastern worldviews conflicting with Western body/brain views) – this issue boils down to two very different epistemologies (ways of knowing). In other words, these two views do not conflict, but represent two very different ways of understanding ourselves and the world.

  • To ‘Out’: mindfulness is NOT a faith-based belief system. It did originate from Buddhist teachings – however as Kabat-Zinn himself has said, “the Buddha was not a Buddhist.” What the Buddha did was to comprehensively explain and describe the mind (consciousness). If you read some of my earlier comments (that you can access by clicking my username – BTW, I probably have directly addressed you as well! – unless there’s another “out”!), you will be able to understand how ‘scientific’ mindfulness is.

  • To Prisoners Dilema: Mindfulness is not a fad and it was not “created to be sold.”
    Also, mindfulness is a type of meditation. All meditation practices can be divided into two main categories. One is ‘focused attention meditation’ and this meditation practice is mainly used to calm the mind (note that the mind has the habit of constantly roaming to all types of thoughts: this attribute is sometimes referred to as the “monkey mind”). The other type of meditation is ‘open monitoring meditation,’ where one is attentive moment by moment to anything that occurs in experience – this meditation is used to develop wisdom.
    The following article describes the differences between these two practices:
    Lutz, A., Slagter, H. A., Dunne, J. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends in Cognitive Science, 12, 163-169.

    Also, although meditation is ultimately about subjective experience, it can be taught in a general way – if you read my comment about children watching ‘floats’ that I posted just now, you will understand how it can be taught.

    One can also envision that just like physical activity is healthy for the body, meditation and mindfulness practices are highly beneficial for the mind.

  • I agree with your comments shaun f. I think anyone can either directly benefit from mindfulness practices, or if they learn the techniques, that can benefit them sometime in the future. Also I am not sure why people are talking about ‘coercion’ in the comments – the article doesn’t even mention that children are being forced to practice (or perhaps I missed something). Usually kids are encouraged to do these practices in a fun-filled way – I had extracted the following sometime back:
    “Children may be told that thoughts pass through the mind like floats pass by in a parade; some of the floats (thoughts) may grab their attention more than others, but just as they would not jump onto a float at a parade, they can simply observe their thoughts as they occur.”

    Reference: Zelazo, P. D., & Lyons, K. E. (2012). The potential benefits of mindfulness training in early childhood: A developmental social cognitive neuroscience perspective. Child Development Perspectives, 6(2), 154-160.

  • @ out
    These discussions are not about you, or me making assumptions about you. My aim of making comments here is to seek/indicate different ways of addressing psychiatric issues. I hope you will read the article very carefully sometime – then you will understand what I am talking about. All the issues you have raised are addressed within that article as well.

  • @ ‘out’:
    “Arrogance of the assumptions”? I am sorry if you felt that way, however I would like to know what I said for you to conclude that please. Psychiatry (especially the type we are criticizing here) assumes that all mental issues are ‘brain disorders’ that can be managed with the right medicine. This is a belief system as there is no evidence for that (I won’t go into details as you would know enough about this, considering that you are commenting here at MIA).

    Regarding meditation, most people who teach meditation to people interested in Buddhism simply teach how to focus the mind (although there are a very few teachers who go deeper into wisdom teachings).
    Buddhist teachings comprehensively analyze and describe the mind (consciousness) – it is NOT a belief system. I suggest that you very carefully read the following peer-reviewed academic article:

    Karunamuni, N., and Weerasekera, R. (2017). Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom. Current Psychology.

  • Hi ‘Out’: I see that you are clinging to the idea that people need to find their own path to happiness, and there simply cannot be any principals/ideas that could be common to everyone. That is not true at all.

    For example, there is compelling evidence regarding rumination and mental illness (I provided a few references but there is a very large body of strong evidence). So, any interventions that can reduce rumination can be of great help to anyone.

    Also, meditation it is not merely about watching your breath. There is so much depth to it than that – for example, meditation enables you to get to know your own mind (i.e., to develop self-knowledge), and to cultivate wisdom. Also, when we practice meditation, we are able to understand how we are attempting to find happiness through mere autopilot striving and reacting to stimuli, as well as the difference between hedonic happiness (which involves short term happiness that come from fulfilling sensory pleasures) and eudemonic happiness (which is about cultivating contentment and wisdom).
    Also, in contrast to what you say, meditation is not about ‘instant nirvana’ – it is a slow process of gradually cultivating understanding.

    I can provide references for all what I have said above.

  • Thank you for your comment ‘twentyseven.’

    The following (relatively old) article gives some techniques that can be used to build mindfulness into your life. You may find it useful:

    Reference: The clinical use of” mindfulness” meditation techniques in short-term psychotherapy (1975). Gary Deatherage, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 7.

    It can be downloaded for free online.

    All the best to you!

  • Hello ‘out’:
    Numerous studies have consistently shown that ‘rumination’ (regretting the past and worrying about the future, proliferating anger, etc.), is a transdiagnostic risk factor (i.e., having the same underlying mechanism) for the development of “psychiatric disorders” – check out the following reviews for example:

    Kaplan, D. M., et al. (2018). Maladaptive repetitive thought as a transdiagnostic phenomenon and treatment target: An integrative review. Journal of Clinical Psychology.

    Watkins, E. (2015). Psychological treatment of depressive rumination. Current Opinion in Psychology, 4, 32-36.

    When considering this, mindfulness interventions can be especially valuable, as they appear to significantly reduce rumination – see the following reviews:

    Tomlinson, E. R., Yousaf, O., Vittersø, A. D., & Jones, L. (2017). Dispositional mindfulness and psychological health: a systematic review. Mindfulness, 1-21.

    Querstret, D., & Cropley, M. (2013). Assessing treatments used to reduce rumination and/or worry: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 996-1009.

    Everyone may not be READY however, to engage in mindfulness practices right away – so other interventions (e.g., to address various practical problems a person may have, engaging in physical activity or yoga) might prepare one for mindfulness practice. There are other benefits of mindfulness practice as well that I have talked about in several previous comments – if you like, you can check them out by clicking my username here.

  • I agree with you ‘dfk.’ This is why I think mindfulness interventions make so much more sense because instead of the need to challenge one’s ingrained beliefs and emotions, one can simply observe how thoughts and emotions come and go in the present moment (and also notice how they are influenced by one’s past conditioning).
    Some aspects of CBT maybe useful for people however in order to solve various practical problems, and to gain hope and support for recovery. I too totally disagree with explore therapy and think it is quite unnecessary.

  • Everything we do (and not do) in life has side effects! And we may eventually view these so called ‘side effects’ as a wonderful thing that happened to us! This is the same for CBT.

    We also need to remember that this situation is very different from the terrible side effects a person may experience as a result of taking psychiatric medicines – including the potential for these medications to make one drug dependent for life. There isn’t anything good about that.

  • Why does everyone keep forgetting neuroplasticity and epigenetics? The organization of brain circuitry is constantly changing as a result of our experiences. Psychological stresses also change the brain and when these stresses are addressed, the brain changes back again. So, even if there are some differences in brains (seen in neuroimaging), there’s no reason to get exited about it. Yes, these research studies are a total waste of time and money.

  • Numerous studies have shown that rumination, worry, etc., substantially contribute to “mental issues.” The following review that looked at various ways in which rumination can be reduced found that mindfulness-based and cognitive behavioural interventions are most useful:

    Querstret, D., & Cropley, M. (2013). Assessing treatments used to reduce rumination and/or worry: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 996–1009].

    One cannot simply tell someone not to ruminate because the mind automatically does that – the only way one can stop ruminating, worrying, etc., is by training the mind in meditation and mindfulness (and this can be accomplished through cognitive behavioural interventions that include a mindfulness component).

  • I think where the present day psychiatrists have failed is in trying to describe everything in terms of the material brain. Because mental activity is correlated with the activity of the brain, they wrongly assume that the brain has to be “treated” with medicines. However, numerous studies have repeatedly shown that our brains are constantly changing AS A RESULT OF our mental experiences. For example, psychological stresses bring about structural changes in the brain and these changes are reversible when these stresses are removed (neuroplastic and epigenetic mechanisms).

    Regarding this, Dr. Beauregard says that the mind (the psychological world, the first-person perspective) and the brain (which is part of the ‘‘physical’’ world, the third-person perspective) represent two epistemologically and ontologically distinct domains that can interact because they are complementary aspects of the same underlying reality. Metaphorically, he refers to the language of the mind as “mentalese” and the language of the brain as “neuronese”! I think this is a great way to present this difference. Here’s the reference to that article:

    Beauregard, M. (2007). Mind does really matter: Evidence from neuroimaging studies of emotional self-regulation, psychotherapy, and placebo effect. Progress in neurobiology, 81(4), 218-236.

    Relating to this, Buddhist philosophical teachings (upon which “mindfulness” originated), comprehensively describe the “mind” (consciousness) in terms of constantly changing sense impressions and mental phenomena (“mentalese”), and how various factors such as past conditioning as well as various attachments we hold influence the manifestation of experience. The following article comprehensively describes the moment-by-moment manifestation of the mind:

    Karunamuni, N., and Weerasekera, R. (2017). Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom. Current Psychology.

  • I agree squash. This is probably why this childhood issue has received a lot of attention these days – perhaps they want to promote pills for all those who had problems during childhood!
    By the way, I know several people who have used mindfulness practices to overcome these types of issues – mindfulness practices are known to bring about measurable changes in the structure and function of the brain in positive ways.

  • Also, this is a review of existing trials – almost all of these existing studies have been funded by large pharmaceutical companies that appear to engage in a great deal of selective reporting, medical ghostwriting, data mischaracterisation and academic malfeasance. Some of the biases in these trials are exposed in the following article:
    Lancee, M., et al. (2017), Outcome reporting bias in randomized-controlled trials investigating antipsychotic drugs, Translational Psychiatry, 7, e1232.

  • Old head: As I see it, the intention of these discussions we are having at MIA is to ultimately generate ideas regarding how mental issues (let’s refer to them as “problems in living”) people have can be resolved. It is not about whether someone has said/not said something in previous comments, or about how good/bad someone’s comments are, etc. So, I am just asking you the simple question “If someone comes to you psychologically agitated what would you tell that person?” If you do not wish to answer, at least you can reflect on this. 🙂

  • Hi Oldhead – I think you are being too extreme in denying people’s lived experiences. Regarding your reply:

    (i) psychiatry is not medicine: Of course psychiatry is not medicine, but there are other ways of helping people without giving psychiatric medicines.

    (ii) emotions are not symptoms – yes, but people sometimes feel psychologically agitated enough to be unable to go to work anymore, feel suicidal, etc., – they seek help, so there can be a system in place to bring back these emotions to ‘normal’ (functional) levels.

    (iii) unhappy people are not sick – I agree, but as I have stated in (ii), people have difficulties that THEY experience, and express the need for some type of help with. Unlike for physical conditions, they do not need any medicine, but some type of emotional assistance can help.

    If someone comes to you psychologically agitated and if this person has limited social support and spiritual support, what would you tell that person? – would you simply say “get over with it”? I would like to know.

  • I haven’t carefully read all the comments here – therefore my apologies in case I am repeating something. As I see it, people do occasionally struggle with mental issues (“problems in living”) for which they seek ways of coping. However, ALL symptoms listed in the DSM (that is currently used to assign various disease labels) appear to happen as a continuum in the general population [reference: Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia (2017) by the British Psychological Society Division of Clinical Psychology]. It is just that as a result of specific life experiences, some people sometimes have extreme readings in some of the symptoms.

    As I see it, instead of assigning labels to people (which massively contribute to stigma), why not use some type of a coding system that can be used by doctors only to record an individual’s list of symptoms such as their level of stress, the level anxiety, fear, etc., so that the progress of the patient can be monitored. A code may look like A3S5W8. Once these numbers return to normal levels, the person can be considered as ‘recovered’ (or if someone doesn’t like the term ‘recovered’, they can consider that person as no longer needing further help for their “problems in living”). I think such a system (instead of the current DSM disease labeling) can go a long way in reducing stigma and would also reduce further progression of these conditions because the client would no longer believe that they have some kind of a “brain disease” (we need to remember that negative expectations lead to negative outcomes through “nocebo effects” – i.e., opposite of placebo effects).

  • Thank you for your reply. Of course, we all are different in terms of our susceptibilities to stressors, and some of these can be genetic. I think pharmaceutical companies love to keep the “genetic” story alive, because they can profit from it by promoting their drugs. Also, you are right about 10 out of 8000 cases (I probably shouldn’t have divided the number!). However, as Steve McCrea has explained here, the contribution of genetic factors are insignificant and are of not much use to investigate either.

    Now, regarding other factors: numerous studies have shown that unhealthy mental habits such as rumination, worry, etc., activate the default mode system of the brain and lead to various psychiatric problems [for example, check out following reference: Querstret, D., & Cropley, M. (2013), Assessing treatments used to reduce rumination and/or worry: A systematic review, Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 996-1009]. So, any interventions that would reduce excessive worrying, etc., can bring about good mental health. Engaging in and being involved in various activities (such as physical activity) can help. Also, numerous studies have shown that mindfulness practices considerably reduce rumination, worry, etc., and also result in measurable changes in the structure and function of the brain in positive ways (such as increases in gray matter and cortical thickness, brain connectivity, etc.). Mindfulness practices are also known to bring about changes in genetic expression (you can do a search on google).

  • Hi rational_moderation:

    Yes, height and weight can be genetically determined. However, factors like nutrition and exercise play a considerable role as well. Regarding psychiatric problems, no study has pinned down any genes responsible for these conditions. If we take schizophrenia for example, genes appear to explain only about 0.001 percent of outcomes – check out the following article: https://theconversation.com/there-are-no-schizophrenia-genes-heres-why-57294

    Also, numerous studies have shown that it is our experiences that bring about changes in brain chemicals and also result structural changes in the brain. For example, when mice are subjected to various psychological stresses (e.g. being restrained) their neurochemicals and their brain changes and these changes are REVERSIBLE through psychological means (e.g. when stressed, restrained animals are released). If someone loses their job, all the rumination, worry, and regrets, etc., will change their brain chemicals and when the person gets a job again (or if their life circumstances change), these chemicals return to normal again. Other research has shown jugglers gain more grey matter in certain areas as a result of engaging in juggling. Taxi drivers gain grey matter in other areas. Even attaching to different intentions is known to change the brain.

    So, stated differently, the organization of brain circuitry is constantly changing as a function of experience or learning. This phenomenon is well known to neuroscience and is often listed as a key discovery of neuroscience, and yet, it is very much ignored. Additional research has shown that our experiences are capable of bringing about changes in genetic expression (this is the field of ‘epigenetics’ – I can provide references if you need them).

    The brain is very complex organ with billions of neurons and trillions of synapses that connect and interact in complex ways – there is so much we do not know about this organ. So, introducing chemicals to it following a hit-or-miss fashion (with someone’s idea of “treating” mental illnesses), simply messes up the natural biochemical pathways, and adversely affect the functioning of the brain in the long-term. Psychiatric drugs work for some people (who can tolerate their side effects) only due to their “placebo effects.”

  • Regarding the labelling that is currently going on – these labels not only disempower the patients but also lead to increased stigma (i.e., referring to someone as ‘bipolar’ or that someone is a schizo, as well as other DSM labels that often end with “disorder”). Additionally, receiving a label and being told that these are ‘long-term conditions’ (which is what is happening now) could lead to further progression of these conditions through nocebo effects (i.e., negative expectations leading to negative outcomes: opposite of placebo effects).

    Research has also found that ALL symptoms listed in DSM (used in the labeling process) are normally distributed in the population – that is, they happen as a continuum in the population [reference: Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia (2017) by the British Psychological Society Division of Clinical Psychology]. It is just that as a result of specific life experiences, some people sometimes have extreme readings in some of the symptoms. At the same time, we cannot deny that people need help to cope with whatever they are experiencing.

    As I see it, instead of assigning labels to people, why not use some type of a coding system that can be used by doctors only to record an individual’s level of stress, the level anxiety, etc., so that the progress of the patient can be monitored. A code may look like A3S5W8 – meaning anxiety rating of 3, stress rating of 5 and ‘worrisome thoughts’ rating of 8. Then, once these numbers return to normal levels, the person can be considered as not needing further help.
    I think such a system should perhaps replace the current DSM labeling.

  • If you refer to meditation as “navel-gazing” – that itself shows how clueless you are about mindfulness/meditation practices!!! By the way, I would have preferred you to have pointed out a particular component of that paper that you disagree with rather than generally stating that you have a negative view about peer-reviewed journals and social science journals. Perhaps you didn’t even bother to read the paper – ignoring other perspectives is not real science at all.

    Please remember that science has insurmountable limits in elucidating the mind because it clings to materialism just like clinging to religion! This is why I like Dr. Rupert Sheldrake’s TED talk titled “The Science Delusion” – he explains that there is a difference between “science as a method of inquiry based on reason, evidence, hypothesis generation and collective investigation” vs. “science as a belief system or a world view.” My sincere wish for you this new year is that you will discover the tremendous value of meditation and mindfulness practices soon!

  • rasselas.redux: It is NOT ‘New Ager propaganda.’ When discussing these things we need to separate different epistemologies (i.e., ways of knowing). One epistemology is the conventional paradigm (which is the scientific method) according to which the mind is merely a non-material property arising from material properties – that is what they observe and think. But there is another different but very important epistemology. To understand this, consider the following statements:

    Everything in the world and the universe is experienced in the mind (i.e., consciousness). Think of it this way: It is the mind (consciousness) that analyzes the world and the universe, analyses various organs in our body, analyses how the brain works and analyses even the mind itself. The ‘mind’ constitutes constantly changing sense impressions (i.e., experiences via our senses such as seeing, hearing, etc.) as well as mental phenomena (feelings, perceptions, intentions, etc.). It is this ‘mental world’ (non-material) that Buddhist teachings have systematically analyzed. This is clearly described in the article I posted earlier – please note that it is an article published in a peer-reviewed academic journal – NOT ‘New Ager propaganda.’

    Stated differently, the scientific method (that interprets only in terms of the ‘material world’) is useful to study only the material world but not appropriate AT ALL when it comes to understanding the mind. Remember that brains don’t talk for themselves – it is the mind that analyses it. People who simply say that the ‘brain is the mind’ forgets that the inquirer is interlocked with the item under inquiry. One has to think outside the box to understand this.

    Please let me know if you understand what I am saying – if not, I will try to explain further. You can also read the following (open access) article to understand this better:
    Karunamuni, N. (2015). The Five-Aggregate Model of the Mind. SAGE Open, 5 (2).

    The article I mentioned earlier (article titled: “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom”) is also very useful and it is publicly available from the following MindRxiv preprint website link: https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/

  • Happy holidays to you too Sam. I understand the concerns you have regarding your wife.

    Something we need to realize is that science is completely ignorant when it comes to issues of brain/mind. This is mainly because science focuses exclusively on materialism and simply assumes the ‘mind’ to be merely electrical activity that happens inside the head. As a result of these assumptions, many so-called “experts” simply follow various (mostly materialistic) theories, which are often none other than personal viewpoints. These “experts” also often give the impression that everything regarding these things is clearly understood. I could write a great deal about this, but it would take up too much space, and perhaps you may have realized this yourself when attempting to find information about these issues.

    Regarding d.i.d., I assume that you know this label is also merely a classificatory category of DSM, and you would have heard how unhelpful DSM “disorder” categories can be. So, this brings us to the “problems of living” issue that you are facing. My question to you at this point is: is your wife affected by her condition or is it just you worrying about her condition? If it is the later, it is just you who need some help! 🙂

    As I explained, because science clings to materialism (just like clinging to a belief system), it currently ignores other ways of understanding the world (i.e., other ‘epistemologies’). In this regard, I really like Buddhist descriptions of the mind, where the mind is understood as being everywhere extending through infinite space and time (if you want to understand this further, you can read the article I suggested in an earlier comment). Even if one doesn’t understand these (Buddhist) explanations of the mind, one can still engage in mindfulness practices. When practising mindfulness, one gets to know one’s own mind, and gradually develop the ability to simply become aware of thoughts like worries without becoming a victim of these thoughts and anxieties.

    I feel that mindfulness practices could help you (and perhaps also your wife in case she needs them). Why not take an 8-week MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) course in mindfulness (this course consists of one class per week, for 8 weeks, with some assigned homework practices). These courses are available in most cities (you can check on the internet). Then, if you find them to be helpful, you can encourage your wife to take the course too. The course would instruct in different types of practices like compassion meditation, awareness of the breath, body-scan meditation, choiceless awareness, etc. You can also learn mindfulness via internet resources, but it might be best to first learn the basics before you explore further.

  • Science has not been able to understand the mind (i.e., consciousness) because it clings to materialism just like clinging to a belief system. However, if we consider science to be an “intellectual activity involving the systematic study of the natural world,” then questioning materialism is also science – one has to think outside the box in order to do this.

    Regarding the mind, ancient Buddhist teachings have systematically and comprehensively analysed the mind – for example, check out the following academic article:
    Karunamuni, N., and Weerasekera, R. (2017). Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom, Current Psychology.

  • Thank you Bradford. I haven’t read too many books by the Dalai Lama, however, I have heard that they are quite good. I learnt mindfulness directly from a Sri Lankan teacher.

    For anyone who wants to know how mindfulness works and how the mind is explained in Buddhist teachings, I suggest reading the following academic publication:

    Karunamuni, N., and Weerasekera, R. (2017). Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom. Current Psychology.
    [This article is publicly available from the following MindRxiv preprint website link: https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/ ]

  • Hi samruck2: As you say, your wife’s issue appears to be a plasticity issue.

    Numerous studies have convincingly shown that it is our experiences, learning, etc., that brings about structural changes in the brain (via neuroplasticity and epigenetics pathways). In other words, our experiences are constantly changing the chemicals and even the structure of the brain (such as atrophy). This has also been demonstrated in animal studies – if an animal is subjected to psychological stresses (such as being restrained in a tight space), their brain chemicals gradually change, and structural changes in the brain can also be observed. When these animals are released however, their brains come back to normal.

    I didn’t read details about your wife’s exact problem, but if she spent a lot of time being depressed, anxious, being ‘depressed about being depressed,’ etc., these could lead to atrophy.

    By the way, did she ever try mindfulness meditation practices? These practices have been demonstrated to significantly reduce rumination, mental proliferation, worry, etc., [reference: Querstret, D., & Cropley, M. (2013). Assessing treatments used to reduce rumination and/or worry: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 996–1009]. Also, engaging in these practices bring about healthy structural and functional changes in the brain (I can give many references if you want).

  • Dear littleturtle: So, it was you who assigned yourself the label of “mental illness”! How can we rely on such subjective assessments! 🙂

    This is why I really like Buddhist descriptions of the mind. According to these teachings, all human beings are constantly seeking gain, honour, happiness and praise while avoiding loss, dishonour, sadness and blame. This is how most of us spend our entire lives. We get angry and sad when we are criticised and get happy when we are praised. Even in the comments here we see many examples of this! 😀

    Now, when we feel sad, if we “feed” on these mind-states (that is, constantly ruminating and thinking “oh my loss, how terrible!”), these mind states grow in power. In contrast, when we learn to let go (by practicing mindfulness of the present moment) we gradually cultivate what is known as “eudaimonic well-being,” which is a durable form of happiness that is not dependent on circumstances and involves peace and contentment. Eudaimonic happiness has been found to be a powerful predictor of positive mental health.

    So, littleturtle, something I can suggest you to do is to gradually develop mindfulness practices. This is something I have myself greatly benefited from.

  • I think all this discussion raises the important question “what is normal”? If we consider normal to be “happy, happy, all the time” then we will all conclude that we have mental problems.

    This is why subjective experience is very important – one maybe very sad throughout his/her life, but yet consider themselves to be normal. Another person may not be that sad, but any sadness they have maybe interpreted as abnormal and needing some sort of “treatment.”

  • I like your addition. By the way, I think most sleep problems result from primarily psychological issues rather than biological (although lack of sleep can secondarily contribute to biological changes). Various psychological habits can be useful to aid sleep as well – one of my favorites is what is known as “loving-kindness meditation” (one can google and find out how this meditation practice is carried out).

  • Hi littleturtle: Biology does affect our mental states. As you say, severe vitamin deficiencies, etc., can affect the brain, but the vitamin deficiencies need to be quite severe, otherwise we will see almost everyone having mental problems. In any case, if mental issues were merely a case of vitamin deficiencies, all that everyone has to do it to take a daily multivitamin pill.

    Here at MIA, people do not deny that biology plays a role. What they are attempting to address is that many psychiatrists blame the brain (biology) for almost ALL the mental issues listed in the DSM – then as a result, they prescribe medicines that the pharmaceutical companies come up with. Now, the pharmaceutical companies come up with these medicines on a ‘hit or miss’ basis (although they provide complicated neuro-jargon explanations to justify how these pills work). Additionally, because pharmaceutical companies mostly have profits in mind, the trials they conduct (to demonstrate the effectiveness of these pills) are known to have a great deal of selective reporting, data mischaracterization, etc. For a few people these pills may work due to the placebo effect but many endure terrible life-long side effects (as described in several MIA blogs).

    Think of it this way: When you disturb a natural system by adding an agent (molecular substance) that YOU interpret as the problem for the issue at hand, you create many additional problems – many of these chemicals that are introduced (in the name of “therapeutic agents”) interfere with normal biochemical functioning of the brain and adversely affect the brain in the long term.

    Alternatively, as described in the resent MIA blog “Psychotherapy is THE Biological Treatment,” – there is a great deal of evidence that it is HUMAN EXPERIENCE that brings about structural changes in the brain (and these changes are reversible). This is why we prefer to put aside biology and focus on the field of psychology.

  • Frank: Since you mentioned “absolute truth,” I thought of writing something about that too.

    This world and the universe can be analysed in different ways – we all know that. We analyse in terms of physical elements (even involving quantum physics where the wave nature of matter is examined), we analyse in terms of biology, social groups and their interactions, etc. But there is a very different level of analyses, or an ‘ultimate level’ of analyses. This involves analysing the mind (i.e., consciousness) – this is the ‘ultimate level’ because it is the mind that analyses all other levels I mentioned including the mind itself.

    Science has not been able to tackle the riddle of consciousness because it clings to materialism almost like clinging to a belief system. However, if we consider science to be an “intellectual activity involving the systematic study of the natural world,” then questioning materialism is also science – one has to think outside the box in order to do this.

    Regarding the mind, ancient Buddhist teachings have systematically and comprehensively analysed the mind. Please take a look at the following article (it is an ‘open access’ article):
    Karunamuni, N.D. (2015). The Five-Aggregate Model of the Mind. SAGE Open, 5 (2).
    A more detailed analyses of the mind (related to this article and based on ancient teachings) is provided in the article titled “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom,” published in the academic journal ‘Current Psychology’ (I posted a link to it in one of my previous comments here).

    If you read these articles and carefully attempt to understand them, you will realize for yourself why this level of analyses is referred to as the ‘ultimate level’ (you will understand that there cannot be a level above it). All religions appear to be aiming for this level of analyses (as described in the first article I mentioned above), although it is in ancient Buddhist teachings that a clear systematic description of consciousness is provided.
    (Note: I am posting this as a separate comment to avoid a thin/long answer thread that would result if I directly reply to your comment).

  • Hi Frank: I am not denying evolution altogether – what I am saying is evolutionary theory should not be used to justify or prove the validity of other assertions that we make because evolutionary theory is not a perfect theory. Many years ago I used to accept evolutionary theory as an ‘absolute truth’ that can never be denied (I just loved the theory!). However when I used to write assignments (university level), I did wonder how it was always possible to come up with various explanations (in terms of survival advantages to an animal) no matter what the observed trait (phenotype) that an animal displayed! There was always a way to twist the explanation to suit the theory – we first look at the trait and then do the explanations!

    Regarding intermediate forms: these intermediate forms are present for only some species – not for all species. Also, I know about the ‘long periods of time’ explanation (that you gave), but think of the stages of evolution of an electric organ in fish – the preliminary beginnings of such an organ (electricity generating cells) could harm the fish itself before it can become a fully developed organ! Also, how would you explain the other points I listed in my earlier comment? Let alone those, in this current article, how would you incorporate evolutionary theory to explain how psychotherapy changes the brain? When I read the article, I just let go those sentences to focus on the main theme of the article (which is about ‘neuroplasticity,’ for which there is indisputable evidence).

  • Well said Steve McCrea!
    However, I think Explorer86 also has a point. The theory of evolution is currently used often in scientific articles as if it is the absolute truth. People forget that it is merely a theory, especially when it is used to justify or prove the validity of other statements.

    Below are some problematic aspects about the theory of evolution that I had noted down sometime back:

    – Unless an organ (for example, electric organs in fish or other organs) is fully developed, it would not provide any survival advantage for an animal and refining an organ after its preliminary beginnings (note that preliminary beginnings of many organs do not have a survival advantage to an animal) would require a great number of random mutations that somehow happen in a favorable direction.

    – If we take altruism, it is very acceptable to say that altruism (genes), get selected because of their advantage for the group. However, if one animal in a litter has an aggressive gene making it kill all its other siblings, it can be hypothesized that this trait would have a greater survival advantage – but we know that this does not happen, and the reason why is not explained by the theory of evolution. In sexual selection too, one could argue why an aggressive trait does not get selected over a pretty display.

    – A growing body of recent research has begun to show that mind states (such as meditation) can influence DNA expression, and these types of findings would be very difficult to incorporate into the theory of evolution.

    – How do we explain why homosexuality-trait persists in humans – if we consider evolutionary explanations, such a trait would be eliminated as soon as it arises! (as there won’t be offspring produced by that individual).

    – The absence of many intermediate forms in fossil records is also problematic for the theory of evolution.

  • Yesterday night there was a news clip (NBC) about depressed children where they showed an MRI scan of a brain of a depressed child (compared with that of a normal child). They interpreted these MRI scans as evidence of a biological difference. Even the reporter stated something like “how can you deny biological differences when you see that!” It was stated that this child is now on medication.

    What this type of reporting fails to realize is that our brains are always changing in terms of its activity – when we are having some emotions (such as being angry or depressed) the scan will be different from what the scan would look like when one is calm. See for example the following clip (~3 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fw-a0MXXTpA

    Additionally, receiving a label and being told that these are long-term conditions not only increases stigma but also could lead to further progression of these conditions through nocebo effects (i.e., negative expectations leading to negative outcomes: opposite of placebo effects).

  • Instead of basing judgments about psychotherapy (based on what different well known people have said about it), I think everyone can agree what people in distress need are hope, support and other interventions such as training in mind-calming activities (e.g. meditation and mindfulness practices, etc.). It is also useful to address their practical needs (direct them to resources on how they can find a job, etc.). So, psychological interventions can go a long way in healing. Also, if anyone does not like the word “healing” they can use the words “to overcome problems in living.” In contrast, what typical psychiatrists do is to give people fancy labels, tell that there is something wrong with their brain circuits and give medicines that ultimately interfere with normal biochemical functioning of the brain.

  • Hi Rossa,
    Perhaps the therapies you mention (e.g. homeopathy) are useful for some physical ailments (we don’t know how they act though) and they may also have some temporary calming effects on the brain.

    I prefer to focus on psychological states that change the brain mostly because the research evidence is very strong in this area. Studies have shown when mice are subjected to various psychological stresses (e.g. being restrained) their neurochemicals and their brain changes and these changes are reversible through psychological means (e.g. when stressed, restrained animals are released). If someone loses one’s job, all the rumination, worry and regrets will change their brain chemicals and when the person gets a job again, these chemicals will return to normal again. But if they are told that they have a “brain disease” (which is what is happening in psychiatry now) that would only lead to a whole lot of additional psychological stresses to that individual.

    Placebo effect happens due to expectations (psychological state) one has regarding a treatment. Meta analyses have shown that most active drugs and placebos have similar effect sizes. See the following:

    Howick J, et al. (2013) Are Treatments More Effective than Placebos? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS ONE 8(5): e62599.

    This means most main-stream medicines are effective only because of their placebo effect. Psychiatric drugs also help some people (those who can tolerate them) only due to their placebo effects. Talking of placebos, in the following new study (involving deep brain stimulation), patients who underwent a sham programming session improved as much as the patients who received real brain stimulation.

    Holtzheimer, P. E., et al. (2017). Subcallosal cingulate deep brain stimulation for treatment-resistant depression: a multisite, randomised, sham-controlled trial. The Lancet Psychiatry, 4(11), 839-849.

  • Mapping can be done for CHANGE. For example with less psychological stress, the amygdala shrinks. So the direction of causation is from changes in psychological constructs to changes in brain structures (see for example: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/what-does-mindfulness-meditation-do-to-your-brain/ ). I think I gave other examples in my earlier comments in other blogs. Additionally, psychological stress can result in epigenetic changes – gene expression changes. For example, see the article: Nestler, E. J. (2012). Epigenetics: Stress makes its molecular mark. Nature.171, 171–172. doi: 10.1038/490171a

  • Hi Steve McCrea: This is not speculation – there is a LOT of literature on brain plasticity (=neuroplasticity). Scientists generally have an idea on what a healthy brain looks like (in terms of connectivity, the size of a amygdala, hippocampus, etc.), so they can tell what is a healthy change and what is not (based on correlational data) using this map. Measurable changes in the brain happen with experience.

    Regarding the mind – I like to think of the mind as constantly changing sense impressions and mental phenomena. Remember that it is the mind (consciousness) that thinks about trees outside, about our body structures such as the digestive system, nervous system, the body organ brain and even the mind itself. Although it is a different ‘level of analyses’ it can be understood – this is described in the article titled “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom,” published in the journal Current Psychology.
    (If you are unable to obtain the article, you can get it from this ‘MindRxiv archive’ link: https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/ )

  • Hi streetphotobeing: Regarding your comment, although there are complex molecular mechanisms involved, what triggers them are psychological experiences of people. Brains do not change for no reason at all. Additionally, although neuroscientists use authentic sounding neuro-jargon to justify what happens in the brain (all the complicated reactions – some of which you have referred to), these are merely ideas of people.

  • I agree with you Robert. Yes, neurons continuously change with our experiences. Psychological stresses change the neurons in various ways and they come back to normal when these psychological stresses are addressed. This is what is called neuroplasticity – a key discovery of neuroscience.

  • Thank you for your honesty and the courage to write.

    I have always held the view that psychiatrists are not “bad people” but are doing their jobs (using check-lists and giving medicines) thinking and truly believing that it is the correct thing to do (due to extensive training they have been provided by people who also simply ‘believed’ in these things). As long as I remember, when I said this in a comment long ago (that psychiatrists are not purposely harming), some at MIA did not agree with me.

    I suppose a big re-think is necessary for the field of psychiatry to go forward (such as eliminating meds altogether and taking over psychological therapies perhaps until this profession is gradually eliminated).

    I wish you the very best in your endeavours…

  • Thank you Joanna. I noticed that you are willing to “grow” from people’s comments to your blogs, which I think is wonderful. So, thank you!

    Regarding neuroplasticity – although many people probably think of neuroplasticity simply as “compensatory mechanisms for drug induced damage,” there is much more to it than that. As you say, the organization of brain circuitry is constantly changing as a function of experience or learning. When we consider learning, most training benefits are stimulus or content specific – such as brain changes in taxi drivers, piano players, jugglers, etc., where specific areas of the brain change in response to training.

    Interestingly, other research has shown that systematic mental training, as cultivated by meditation, can induce learning that is not stimulus or task specific, but process specific. “Process-specific learning” denote learning effects that do not only improve performance on the trained task or tasks, but also transfer to new tasks and domains.
    This is described in the following article:
    Slagter HA, Davidson RJ, Lutz A. (2011). Mental training as a tool in the neuroscientific study of brain and cognitive plasticity. Front Hum Neurosci, 10;5:17.

    Regarding subjective experience – I think here we are talking about typical instances where a person decides to access mental health care. Of course other factors like different people encouraging/forcing the person to see a psychiatrist (i.e., based upon their beliefs on how mental issues need to be handled, etc.), can play a role for some cases. However, I think if we solve the problem regarding how mental issues need to be addressed (an evidence based method that everyone can agree on – just like how we currently have a good system in place for physical illnesses), then others may not force an individual simply based on their own belief systems.

  • Thanks. Yes, stress contributes in a big way. Being stressed results in physiological changes in the body in addition to neural changes. I think receiving the diagnostic label of Alzheimer’s can also be quite debilitating for anyone, and the label itself could lead to further progression of the disease through nocebo effects (i.e., negative expectations leading to negative outcomes: opposite of placebo effects).

  • Regarding Alzheimer’s – the ‘Einstein Aging Study’ (a longitudinal study) demonstrated that psychological stress predicts cognitive impairment. So, various stress reduction techniques could go a long way in preventing and in stopping the progression of this condition as well.
    Reference for the study: Katz, M. J., et al. (2016), Influence of Perceived Stress on Incident Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment: Results From the Einstein Aging Study. Alzheimer disease and associated disorders, 30(2), 93-98.

  • Frank – What I meant by “normal people” are people who live conventional lives (each and every one of us). These are people who can experience physical illnesses or “problems in living” anytime and as a result, seek help.

    Also, what I said was these neuroplastic changes (that happen as a result of psychological stresses) are reversible – just like physical activity related changes are in muscle cells. People who have brain damage (such as from a stroke or accident) can also benefit from mental exercises (and therapies) that result in neuroplastic changes (i.e., the reversal of brain damage). But the term ‘neuroplasticity’ does not merely refer to changes that happen as a result of brain damage. Check out the reference (Popoli et al., 2012) I suggested and also the references I posted in the previous blog.

  • Hi Frank – In my comment, I am referring to normal people who expect help from any health system. So, I do not understand what you mean by “help being forced upon people.” In any case, everyone has subjective experience all the time.

    Regarding neuroplasticity – you cannot deny research evidence. Even animal research has shown changes that happen in the brain. For example, mice that are subjected to various psychological stresses (such as being restrained) show dendritic atrophy and loss of dendritic spines, and these changes are reversible through psychological means (when these restrained animals are released). Check out the following article: Popoli M, et al. (2012). The stressed synapse: the impact of stress and glucocorticoids on glutamate transmission. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 2011;13(1):22-37).

    As I see it, the words you use “repair” and “damage” are not appropriate to describe neuroplasticity. What happens in neuroplasticity is “change” – and these changes are reversible.

  • I wish this article were written using straightforward language using simple sentences! 🙂 I had to read each sentence more than three times in order to understand what exactly is being said here!

    As I see it, whether it is a physical illness or a mental problem (i.e., “problems in living”), the reason one would seek help from a professional is ultimately due to an individual’s subjective experience. If this subjective experience of pain (mental or physical) reaches a certain threshold level (this threshold can be different for different people), and interferes with one’s day-to-day activities, then they seek help. For physical illnesses, we have established systems of treating patients – no one questions that. With mental issues psychiatrists assume there has to be a physical cause (they assume this although there is no evidence for it).

    Regarding all this, what I don’t understand is why everyone ignores neuroplasticity (a key discovery of neuroscience). Neuroplasticity is a situation where neurons and neurochemicals continuously change with human experience (just like physical activities change our muscles). For example, when someone experiences psychological stresses, these stresses result in changes in the brain but when these stresses are addressed, the brain becomes normal again (I gave many references for this in comments to Joanna’s previous blog). As I see it, this is how ‘mental pain’ issues should be addressed. This can be addressed either by targeting the stressor itself (e.g. finding a job for someone who lost their job), or by changing the way people deal with stresses (e.g. providing hope and support to the patient, as well as with other interventions such as training in meditation/mindfulness practices). The current practice of giving fancy psychiatric labels to patents (and being told that these are long-term conditions) only aggravates their stress level and the medicines that are given interfere with the normal functioning of the brain.

  • Hi Joanna: Regarding your statement, “biological markers of distress are more likely to be secondary, or correlative than causal,” I don’t think it is a matter of ‘more likely’ but a matter of how it is, especially since there is overwhelming evidence suggesting that it is human experience that continuously changes the structure of the brain. In other words, as I see it, and as stated by ‘FeelinDiscouraged,’ and others here, ‘confusion of cause and effect’ is one of the biggest problems in psychiatry.

    Regarding references for experience changing the structure of the brain, I mentioned the mouse study with a reference in this blog. Below are some additional references. There are probably more recent references – I must do a new search sometime.

    Nestler, E. J. (2012). Epigenetics: Stress makes its molecular mark. Nature,171, 171–172.

    Davidson, R. J., and McEwen, B. (2012). Social influences on neuroplasticity: stress and interventions to promote well-being. Nature neuroscience 15.5: 689-695.

    Markham, J.A. & Greenough, W.T. (2004). Experience-driven brain plasticity: beyond the synapse. Neuron Glia Biology, 1, 351–363.

    Bremner JD (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 8 (4), 445-61.

    Radley, et al. (2005). Reversibility of apical dendritic retraction in the rat medial prefrontal cortex following repeated stress. Experimental Neurology, 196, 199–203.

    Vyas, A., (2002). Chronic stress induces contrasting patterns of dendritic remodeling in hippocampal and amygdaloid neurons. The Journal of Neuroscience, 22, 6810–6818.

    Hanson, J.L., et al. (2010). Early stress is associated with alterations in the orbitofrontal cortex: a tensor-based morphometry investigation of brain structure and behavioral risk. The Journal of Neuroscience, 30, 7466–7472.

    Yang, S., et al. (2012). Enriched Environment and White Matter in Aging Brain. The Anatomical Record, 295,1406–1414.

    Chang et al. (2015). Social isolation-induced increase in NMDA receptors in the hippocampus exacerbates emotional dysregulation in mice. Hippocampus. 25(4):474-485.

    Fett et al., (2015). Social neuroscience in psychiatry: unravelling the neural mechanisms of social dysfunction. Psychological Medicine. 45(6):1145-1165.

    (I posted this comment once before, but it may have got marked as spam – my apologies in case this gets posted twice.)

  • Regarding the bio-psycho-social model: All ‘mental illnesses’ are purely psychological. Social factors contribute to these psychological issues (because we have social pressures to achieve status, avoid being seen as worthless, etc.).

    Regarding the biological – it is psychological factors that bring about changes in biology (if we disregard things like tumour growth, etc., which are rare and purely biological – these of course have to be treated in a biological manner, such as surgery). In other words, psychological stresses, etc., bring about changes neurons and brain chemistry and these changes are reversible through psychological means. To take one example study: mice subjected to various psychological stresses (e.g. being restrained) show dendritic atrophy and loss of dendritic spines in the brain (reference: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3645314/ ). However, these changes are reversible through psychological means (e.g. when stressed, restrained animals are released as described in the same article).

    As I have mentioned before (in my previous comments to this series of blogs), Buddhist teachings from 2600 years ago explain the mind in great detail – such as how our attachments (whether it is towards our physical body, or for gaining pleasant feelings, social pressures, etc.), influence the manifestation of the mind-stream – all psychological stresses (that we refer to as ‘mental illnesses’ or ‘mental suffering’) happens as manifestations within this mind-stream that is changing moment by moment [reference: Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom, published in ‘Current Psychology’ (MindRxiv archive link: https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/ ].

  • Perhaps I should have said “…if your mind tends to get easily distracted with thoughts…” – my mind used to do that (getting entangled in depressing thoughts related to the past, anxious thoughts relating to the future, etc.), before I trained in meditation practices.

    Sometimes this approach is referred to as being a ‘master of the mind’ rather than being a ‘slave to situations in life.’

  • Fiachra: I am not exactly sure what you mean, but I would say if your mind tends to ruminate a lot (building stories, etc.,) then it is best to do focused attention meditation (such as the ‘body-scan’ meditation). As you get better at this, during daily living your mind will be able to notice and recover soon as you venture into thoughts (such as anxiety provoking thoughts) that you do not wish to engage in. You can check out the following YouTube video I happened to come across recently – he puts it in a simple way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOHH6pxYi8A (it has two parts).

    Also the following article can be helpful. It might be a bit of a heavy-read (since it is an academic article), but going through it at your own pace can be very helpful I think (as it provides several tips on how mindfulness practices can be incorporated – based on insights into how the mind works).
    Article title: “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom,” published in the journal ‘Current psychology.’ [it is available as a MindRxiv archive at this link: https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/ ]
    Hope this information is helpful…

  • Vortex and Frank: I am familiar with the ‘free will debate,’ and this is addressed well in the articles I suggested reading (I have provided links to them in my earlier comments). ‘Free will’ or ‘no free will’ depends on what ‘level of analyses’ you look from. Shall check out your links/videos some other time.

  • Joanna: What do you mean by “not reducible to it”? – I would like to know. As I stated earlier, I think it is extremely important to separate two DISTINCT levels of analyses: one level for analysing things like the brain and the material world (this level of analyses is useful for our daily living and for ‘scientific’ understanding of the material world, etc.), and the other level for making sense of consciousness. This second level takes into account things like the constantly changing mind-stream: considering in terms of the past, present and the future and also that we experience only one thought moment at a time, etc.

  • Thank you Fiachra. Yes, meditation and mindfulness practices can be extremely helpful. I have seen numerous studies that have shown meditation/mindfulness interventions bring about healthy structural and functional changes in the brain (plasticity changes). These are measurable changes – not small changes (reference: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4209813/
    One very recent study has shown that different types of meditation change the brain in different ways (reference: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/10/e1700489 )

  • What is science? It is: systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation. It is a good system to understand the material world and has enormously increased the quality of life in all people.

    However, science is struggling with the riddle of consciousness (i.e., still unable to understand or define what the “mind” or “consciousness” is). One reason for this is: the mind is not material although there is a relationship between the mind and the material world. Also, when science studies consciousness (i.e., by studying the brain), it forgets that the inquirer is interlocked within the item under inquiry (i.e., consciousness).

    In other words, studying the material world represents one level of analyses. Studying the mind represents a different level of analyses. Remember it is the mind that knows about the existence of the whole material world and about the existence of the organ brain and as well as the mind. The following article differentiates these two levels of analyses: “The Five-Aggregate Model of the Mind,” published in ‘SAGE Open’ – link: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2158244015583860
    I hope you will take a look at it especially because it also addresses your question regarding people’s experiences being automatic.

    All this also boils down to a great deal of deep rooted conditioning that happen in schools and in medical schools that make the upcoming generation to unquestioningly believe that materialism is an “absolute reality.” Rupert Sheldrake explains this issue well in his banned TED talk – he talks about the difference between “science as a method of inquiry based on reason, evidence, hypothesis and collective investigation vs. science as a belief system or a world view” he says that “the latter has started to inhibit and constrict free inquiry, which is the life blood of the scientific endeavor.”
    Here’s the link to his talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKHUaNAxsTg

    As I see it, if you remove the “-ism” in Buddhism, then you are left with the ultimate science of consciousness.

  • Brain plasticity, which is the ability of the brain to continuously change with various environmental influences, etc., is often listed as one of the key discoveries of neuroscience. Yet, psychiatrists completely ignore it as if it doesn’t even exist – for them, everything has to be interpreted in terms of genes, neural circuits and other unchanging entities that somehow have to be manipulated using drugs. This ignorant view is due to ‘confirmation bias’ – the tendency to search for and only favour information that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses.

  • Understanding consciousness is said to be the hardest problem ever, and yet as I mentioned earlier it was solved 2600 years ago. Yes, there can be other causal conditions that affect the mind-stream (it is not just social influences). In order to understand this further, I suggest reading the article I mentioned earlier – here it is again: “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom,” published in ‘Current psychology’ – free link (legal): https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/
    You need to read it very carefully – then you will see that it is possible to systematically understand the mind. It is not mere philosophical speculation.

  • Causes and conditions lead you. If your friends engage in some activity and encourage you to do those activities as well, then these are causes and conditions that motivate you to engage in those things. In other words, we do things the way we are conditioned. This is not determinism. “Free will” is valid at a conventional level (we say we can do anything), but when considering the moment-by-moment manifestation of the mind-stream, it is causes and conditions that lead to other causes and conditions.

    Remember that there is a widely prevalent assumption that people are consciously processing incoming information in order to construe and interpret their world and to plan and engage in courses of action. However, scientific research has shown that all our experiences are automatic [check out the article: Bargh, JA., and Chartrand, TL (1999). The unbearable automaticity of being. American psychologist 54.7: 462. – I can provide additional references if you want, and also you may have heard of Libet’s experiments as well]. Also check the other articles I suggested in other comments (especially the one published in ‘current psychology’ and the one in ‘SAGE Open’) – both those articles address this issue.

  • I agree with you Vortex. The statement “there is no mind without a brain” is valid only at a very superficial level of analyses. Before improved standards of antenatal care were available, Lorber (1981) had studied hundreds of patients who displayed normal and above normal IQ’s in spite of having severely reduced brain tissue. [Reference: Lorber J. Is your brain really necessary? Nurs Mirror. 1981 Apr 30;152(18):29-30.]. This makes us wonder if the brain is even necessary! I have heard of such cases recently as well (e.g. Noah Wall).

    Also, studying information-processing receptors on nerve cell membranes has led to the discovery that the same “neural” receptors are present on most, if not all, of the body’s cells. That is, the “brain” is not focused in the head but is distributed via signal molecules to the whole body [Reference: Pert, Candace (1997). Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine, New York, Scribner].

  • I have heard of the simile of a candle as well (used in Buddhism). Imagine a candle that is lit in a very dark room. The light is the mind the candle is the body with the brain. It is this light that enables one to see everything including the ability to see and know that there is a candle and a flame. The candle does assist the flame, but it is the presence of the flame that enables us to know and interpret all phenomena.

  • Joanna: In this comment, I think you have a hint of the important need for the separation of two different levels of analyses. As I see it, the ‘picture’ you mention here is nothing but the moment-by-moment manifestation of the mind-stream. The ‘mind’ can think of anything, whether it is about ourselves, about the brain, various theories we come up with, the mind itself, etc. As I see it, people who are only used to conducting analyses from a conventional point of view or third-person analyses (i.e., people who have never watched their mind or meditated) would find it hard to understand how the mind manifests moment by moment. Also, as I see it, unless we separate the two different levels of analyses, people will be constantly arguing in circles!

  • Adding to what I wrote earlier: the TWO distinct levels of analyses was also mentioned by Aristotle – he referred to them as phronesis and sophia.
    The following article describes these two levels well:
    “ The Five-Aggregate Model of the Mind,” published in ‘SAGE Open’ – link: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2158244015583860

    Anyone interested can also check out the article: “Waiting for Sophia: 30 years of conceptualizing wisdom in empirical psychology,” published in ‘Research in Human Development’: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15427609.2011.568872

  • Steve McCrea: there is no programmer – just causes and conditions continuously leading to other causes and conditions. These follow natural ‘laws.’ For example, the moment-by-moment manifestation of the mind-stream (that I have mentioned in my other comments here) is described as being influenced by five causal factors – one of them is ‘biological factors.’

  • I agree that there is no mind without a brain. However, remember that there are TWO levels of analyses. What Joanna has focused on is the third person level of analyses. The other level represents understanding the moment-by-moment manifestation of the mind-stream. Everyone experiences the mind-stream all the time. Even when someone is conducting third-person analyses on ANYTHING, their mind-stream is changing moment by moment. If you read my other comment here, you might understand this.

  • Joanna – But there is another way of looking at this whole issue. What you have written is not wrong, but there is ANOTHER WAY of looking at all this. You say things like “the natural world is physical” and “bodies need water, energy and oxygen” these statements are not wrong, but please pause for a moment and think who is saying all this?

    It is the mind (consciousness) that knows about the existence of the natural world and it is the mind (consciousness) that analyzes it. It is the mind that knows about various organs of the body including the organ brain – remember that brains do not talk. Also, it is the mind (consciousness) that knows about the mind itself. As I have stated before, ancient Buddhist teachings have comprehensively analyzed the mind (consciousness) where the mind is described as constantly changing sense impressions and mental phenomena.

    Perhaps I will explain this in a different way. Many investigations in psychology and neuroscience have shown that we only have one thought moment at a time and this happens as a fast flowing stream. We generally refer to our moment-by-moment experience using the terms: past, present and the future. Buddhist teachings explain that the present moment is experienced either through the five senses or as thoughts, whereas the past and the future are experienced only as thoughts in the present moment. This mind-stream is also influenced by other factors such as attachments we develop through various conditioning influences. The mind-stream happens in everyone all the time whether one is reading this article, commenting on it, going for a walk, eating, playing, studying the brain, etc.

    None of the philosophers you have mentioned has described the mind (consciousness) the way the Buddha did some 2600 years ago. People appear to avoid studying what he taught simply because these teachings are considered to be “religion.” However, if one can go beyond this negativity, it is possible to understand how these teachings make total sense. As I see it, his teachings are the ultimate “science of consciousness.”

    Please read the following article and you will understand what I am talking about:
    “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom,” published in the journal Current Psychology. (The article is available as a ‘MindRxiv archive’ at this link: https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/ )

  • Well said oldhead! Not only poisons – these researchers also use authentic sounding neuro-jargon to justify how these ‘medicines’ work (saying things like “blocks the reuptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine,” etc). All these give the impression to innocent patients that scientists have fully figured out how the brain works!

  • Thank you for your reply Pia. Yes, I agree it is best to proceed slowly in ‘educating’ these researchers.

    I thought of adding that – observing animal models maybe useful for learning the function of organs like the liver, pancreas, etc., because such investigations can directly lead to treatments. But scientists forget that when it comes to the brain/mind, things are different and that they make one fundamentally false assumption. This is: because brain activity is CORRELATED with thinking, they assume that the organ brain has to be somehow treated when someone has mental issues (this has also led to the assumption that the ‘mind’ is located inside the head!). They forget that it is the mind (consciousness) itself that studies the organ brain and the brain cannot talk for itself.

    Additionally scientists ignore the fact that it is HUMAN EXPERIENCE that brings about changes in brain chemicals (and also result in structural changes in the brain – i.e., neuroplasticity and epigenetics). Mice subjected to various psychological stresses (e.g. being restrained) clearly show many changes in the brain [see for example the article https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22127301%5D – these changes are reversible through psychological means (e.g. when stressed, restrained animals are released as described in the same article). Even studies conducted with jugglers, taxi drivers, etc., have shown that it is psychological experience that brings about changes in the brain. Mindfulness practices are known to change the structure and function of the brain in positive ways – one recent study showed that different types of meditation change the brain in different ways (see: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/10/e1700489 )

    So, unless these researchers are encouraged to see things with a broader lens, wasting a lot of money to find medicines for the brain will continue.

  • Many studies have shown that any positive effects that psychiatric drugs show are due to the placebo effect, and the ‘chemical imbalance theory’ is a myth. So, I do not understand why the conclusion of this article says “we need to ensure improved quality of animal psychiatric research.” As I see it: We do not need to research psychiatric drugs at all for mental issues – it is the WRONG approach.

  • I like the term “problems in living” – the current system only exaggerates a person’s stress level by giving them labels and referring to these issues as “long-term conditions that require medications.” I came across an article titled “Why do you take those pills, Mummy?’ Explaining mental illness to my six-year-old” where the chemical model is totally accepted – I thought of commenting but then realized that I do not know how and where to start the conversation.

  • I agree MartinMc, regarding that the Buddha did not strictly adhere to non-self. According to the teachings: from a ‘conventional’ sense (i.e., relative sense), we exist as individual entities. However, at an ‘ultimate level of analyses’ there is no unchanging entity to be found anywhere in the constantly changing body or mind. This is described well in the following article: “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom,” Current Psychology. [free link (legal) from the MindRxiv research repository: https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/ ]

    Also, mindfulness exercises can simply be used as a mental exercise to promote mental wellbeing, just like physical exercises can be used to promote physical wellbeing. So, I don’t think there is an issue with anyone using mindfulness to promote general wellbeing in employees. There is also evidence that the practice of mindfulness may positively influence ethical behavior [see for example the following article: “Mindfulness-based business ethics education,” Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, 16(3), 99. http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/77842201/mindfulness-based-business-ethics-education ] – so, promoting mindfulness is ultimately a good thing.

    Additionally just like everyone who becomes physically fit is not going to endeavour to climb Mount Everest, not everyone who learns to meditate would have ‘spiritual enlightenment’ as their goal.

  • Hi Joanna,
    Thank you for your reply. Yes, the first-person perspective is ‘experience,’ and any ‘knowledge’ that one may gain from this experience is ‘wisdom.’ By the way, there is a BIG difference between the first and third person levels of analyses. Perhaps I did not explain this properly – so I will try again.

    There’s an article published in Nature titled “The Mental Universe” [ref: Henry, R. C. (2005). Nature, 436, 29.], where it is described that this whole world and the universe is “entirely mental.” (This article is available for free online – but I am not sure if it is a legal link, so I am not posting the link.)

    This “The Mental Universe” can also be understood as follows: it is the mind (consciousness) that knows and studies things outside (such as trees, weather patterns, etc.). Also it is the mind (consciousness) that knows about the existence and studies body structures such as the digestive system, nervous system and even the organ brain. The following open-access article is helpful to understand the ‘two levels of analyses’ further: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2158244015583860

    This whole issue needs thinking outside the box – so, hope you will carefully ponder it!

    .

  • There is a limit to which ‘social causes of distress’ can be addressed (e.g. disadvantaged populations – think of the Whitehall study). Therefore, mindfulness practices are very useful to address individual stress reduction. Learning mindfulness practices can also improve employee’s family life. So, there is nothing wrong in teaching these practices in corporate settings. People are simply going to use the techniques for stress reduction – they are not going to suddenly get enlightened, so talking about things like non-duality and non-self is not relevant here. People generally want to criticize everything (saying they are gaining, losing, etc.), but we need to look at the bigger picture here as well as the many different variables involved.

  • Frank: There are a couple of things we need to remember here. First – there is a widely prevalent assumption that people are consciously and systematically processing incoming information in order to construe and interpret their world and to plan and engage in courses of action. This is a totally INCORRECT assumption because all our human experiences are automatic [for example, check out the following article: Bargh, JA., and Chartrand, TL (1999). ‘The unbearable automaticity of being.’ American psychologist, 54.7: 462.]. So, although we think something like studying anatomy is accurate, what happens here is a visual observation automatically followed by perception. In the article I posted in my earlier comment, it is described how this automatic processes happens in terms of our moment-by-moment experiences relating to the five senses and thoughts. To me, studying this is the ‘ULTIMATE science.’ Do you call that soft (inexact)?

  • I agree that mental states are properties of living people whose meaning is inextricable from its social context. You also mention the ‘scientific method’ is useful for predictability and to determine causes, etc. of the material world but is not suitable for the study of our mental world.

    However, the scientific method can be used to systematically understand (in terms of predictability, causes, etc.) our ‘mental worlds.’ Don’t forget that we only have one thought moment at a time (think in terms of the past, present and the future) and this fast flowing thought stream happens in each and everyone of us all the time.

    As I mentioned earlier, the Buddha’s philosophical teachings that were presented 2600 years ago have extensively analyzed this mind-stream (which can be systematically understood by anyone who takes the time to do so). These analyses explain that we all have an innate disposition to constantly engage in eight worldly preoccupations (i.e., to seek gain, honour, happiness and praise, while escaping loss, dishonour, sadness and blame). The analyses also divide mental states to different categories and provide interrelationships between them. Further explanations are provided on how our past conditioning plays a significant role in the manifestation of the mind-stream, and how various attachments we have also influence the mind-stream, etc. It is also explained that biological factors are ONE of the five causal factors that influence the manifestation of this mind-stream.

    By the way, all the analyses you have provided are from a third-person perspective. When talking about the mind, we need to consider the first-person perspective (i.e., the moment by moment manifestation of the mind-stream). Additionally, all the analyses I mentioned take into account that the inquirer is interlocked with the item under inquiry (consciousness). As explained in these teachings, the ultimate release from suffering comes from “seeing things as they are.” (i.e., gradual cultivation of wisdom).
    [Reference to what I have presented above: Karunamuni, N., and Weerasekera, R. (2017). Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom. Current Psychology. [free link (legal) from the MindRxiv research repository: https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/ ]

  • Fiachra: I agree that it is not necessary to bring the organ brain into these types of discussions – but because we hear so much about the brain and neurons these days (and it is emphasized in psychiatry!), sometimes it is useful to talk about them in terms of where they fit into the equation. I think there is even a book titled “The Buddha’s brain” where the changes in the brain that happen with meditation practice are discussed.

  • Hi Fiachra,
    Perhaps you misunderstood what I meant by ‘life experience.’ Our brains are constantly changing all the time, as a result of experience and this happens regardless of age. Life experience could involve reacting to a life stressor by ruminating, regretting, proliferating thoughts, etc., or letting go (though the practice of mindfulness for example). Many studies have shown that the practice of mindfulness (that prevents mental proliferations and rumination and reduce psychological stress) also changes the structure and function of the brain and neurons in positive ways. On the other hand, ruminating, regretting, proliferating thoughts, etc. are linked to so called “mental disorders.” So, even if one starts meditating (e.g. Buddhist practice) at a later age, that can have positive benefits for mental health.
    If you think I have misunderstood your question, please let me know! 🙂

  • littleturtle: Biology is ONE of the factors that can contribute to our experienced “mind-stream” that manifest moment to moment. But it is NOT the only factor. Other factors that contribute include our various life experiences, our conditioned attitudes and views, attachments, etc. The problem with psychiatry is that it makes the assumption that mental issues are purely biological and therefore many of them need to be treated with medicines. If you read the article (“Theoretical Foundations to…) I posted in an earlier comment here – it gives more information on various different FACTORS that can influence the moment-to-moment manifestation of the mind-stream.

    Also note that our brains/neurons are CONSTANTLY CHANGING all the time as a RESULT of our experience (this is generally referred to as ‘neuroplasticity ’). To take some examples: studies have shown that as taxi drivers do their jobs (psychological causes), their brain/neurons change. jugglers gain more grey matter in certain areas of the brain as a RESULT of engaging in this activity. Various psychological habits, choices, etc., also change the brain. For example, research has shown that impulsivity trait results in reductions in gray matter in the brain. On the other hand, mindfulness practices (that result in reductions in impulsivity) change the structure and function of the brain in positive ways (e.g. increases in gray matter and cortical thickness). I also gave an example of a mice study in a different comment here. So, although biology affects our mind stream, it is our mental states that continuously change the brain and neurons (note: although biology can be affected as a result of an injury to the brain or due to a tumour, etc. – these are rare and a completely different story).

    Also remember that how the brain works (as an organ) has NOT been understood AT ALL. So, all the authentic-sounding explanations that is provided in psychiatry regarding how neurotransmitters work, about serotonin levels, GABA, glutamate, PEA, etc., can be very misleading. Pharmaceutical companies come up with various medicines for mental problems using a purely ‘hit or miss’ approach, and these may work for some only because of their ‘placebo effect.’ Additionally, we need to remember that despite decades of research, scientists have not been able to find any structural or other brain differences between patients who show up with “mental illness” and healthy individuals. This is the reason why doctors use subjective criteria (check-lists) to diagnose patients – they do not have any objective tests like blood tests.

  • I agree Dragon. The field of psychiatry ASSUMES that the brain changes for no reason at all and therefore assumes that the brain has to be treated with medicines (note that they also provide all types of detailed neuro-jargon explanations as to how these medicines work – as if the activity of the brain has been fully understood!). They completely forget (and ignore) the fact that it is HUMAN EXPERIENCE that brings about changes in brain chemicals and structural changes in the brain. Even animal studies have shown this. Mice subjected to various psychological stresses (e.g. being restrained) show adverse changes in the brain [see for example the following article: Popoli M, et al. (2012). The stressed synapse: the impact of stress and glucocorticoids on glutamate transmission. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 2011;13(1):22-37] – these changes are reversible through psychological means (e.g. when stressed, restrained animals are released as described in the same article).

  • I posted the above comment a few minutes ago, but it looks like it had got marked as ‘spam’ because it had too many links (therefore, I had to post it again without links – the comment above). However, I thought of attempting to add the following free link (it is a LEGAL link) to the article “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom,” (2017) from the MindRxiv research repository: https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/

  • When approaching this issue, it is extremely important to separate TWO distinct levels of analyses. One is the conventional level of analyses – we analyze how trees grow, how the weather happens, how digestion takes place in our body, the chemical/molecular structure of compounds, and even how the brain works along with neural correlates of thoughts, etc.

    The second level of analyses relate to understanding the moment-by-moment manifestation of the mind-stream (i.e., “stream of consciousness”). We need to remember that we only have ONE thought moment at a time (see for example: Slagter, Heleen A., et al. “Mental training affects distribution of limited brain resources.” PLoS biology 5.6 (2007): e138). This mind-stream happens in everyone all the time, whether one is cooking, driving a car, gardening or carrying out a research investigation (such as studying the brain). Even when reading this article, our mind-stream is constantly changing.

    Joanna mentioned the importance of the social context. This too can be understood by considering the mind-stream. For example, seeing a person you really like would result in a pleasant feeling. However, if that person became your enemy one-day, then seeing this same person would result in an unpleasant feeling. This change is due to social experience – not DUE to changes in neurons (although neurons would have changed as a RESULT of social experiences – note that the brain is changing all the time as a result of human experience). To take another example, if someone has learnt as a child that interrupting a conversation is rude, then when one observes someone interrupting, this behavior would be labeled as ‘bad behavior’ (due to the social expectations) and if the person has not learnt this, then the person would not care about someone interrupting another person.

    It should be noted that Buddhist teachings have comprehensively (and systematically) analyzed the mind-stream and the these teachings talk of “conditioned causality” – i.e., how mind-states are interrelated in different ways and how various causes and conditions lead to other causes and conditions, etc. To understand this mind-stream better – it is also useful to conceptually understand what is meant by the “present moment,” “the past” and “the future.” One can get an idea about all this from the following academic article: “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom.” Current Psychology (2017).

    As I see it, unless we separate the two levels of analyses described above – people will be continuously arguing in circles. The problem with attempting to understand the brain/neurons with the aim of understanding the mind/consciousness) is that one forgets that the inquirer is interlocked with the item under inquiry. The two levels of analyses can also be thought of as the ‘third person perspective’ and the ‘first-person perspective.’ The following article is also useful to understand the two levels of analyses: Karunamuni, N.D. (2015). The Five-Aggregate Model of the Mind. SAGE Open, 5 (2).

  • Joanna: Thank you for your reply. Regarding Heidegger – although he had talked about the importance of the ontological basis of questions asked regarding human experiences, etc., he did not present a clear theory. There also appears to be evidence that his thinking was influenced by Eastern philosophical ideas. On the other hand, the article I posted comprehensively explains the mind (and is presented as a theory).
    By the way, in the ‘memorial to Matt,’ he is quoted as saying – although he could understand that his mental issues had no basis, he could not change it emotionally no matter how hard he tried. This is a situation where mindfulness meditation could go a very long way – one can gradually train oneself to not get involved with various emotions when they happen to come. This training, along with clearly understanding the mind (as explained in that article) can go a long way for maintaining good mental health. Anyway, you can read the article/s leisurely and do your own assessments…

  • Joanna: I applaud you for taking up this issue.
    I also really like Thomas Szasz’s writings – he was instrumental in raising these issues and getting people contemplating/discussing these important matters. However, I have something to add to this discussion and I hope you will read the rest of this comment with an open mind.

    I too have done quite a bit of reading on this subject area and as a result, I agree with “Slaying_the_Dragon” regarding that logic/science are limited means to arrive at the truth. In other words, we need to consider other epistemologies. Here, I like to direct your attention to how ancient people understood the mind – especially how Buddhist teachings (from some 2600 years ago) describe the mind. I know that some people simply discard these types of considerations thinking that “it is religion and therefore it must be irrational.” However, if someone can go beyond that negativity, then one can see how comprehensively these teachings have described the mind.

    First, when talking of different epistemologies, it is useful to think in terms of two levels of analyses. One is the conventional level – almost all of the analyses we do on a day-to-day level happen at the conventional level (e.g. analyses on how trees grow, how digestion happen, about evolution, how the brain works, etc.). The other level of analysis is the moment-to-moment manifestation of the “stream of consciousness” (i.e., this takes into consideration the past, present and the future, how the past can condition the future, etc.).

    Buddhist teachings comprehensively describe this “stream of consciousness” in terms of continuously changing sense impressions and mental phenomena, and also describe factors that moderate the flow of consciousness. When you understand these explanations, it is possible to comprehend that there is no such thing as “mental illness,” and that there are only issues in life that can be dealt with through understanding (by the way, this relates to the practice of ‘mindfulness’). Commentaries of Buddhist teachings describe that the “stream of consciousness” is affected by physical laws, biological laws, psychological laws, volitional laws, and universal laws. The following academic article is a good start read about this:

    Karunamuni, N., and Weerasekera, R. (2017). Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom. Current Psychology. doi:10.1007/s12144-017-9631-7

  • I agree with all this. Also, if someone wants to call them “biological conditions” then one has to understand that it is HUMAN EXPERIENCE (i.e., psychological causes such as severe psychological stresses) that brings about changes in biochemicals and the brain. Many of studies have shown this. Mice subjected to various psychological stresses (e.g. being restrained) clearly show dendritic atrophy and loss of dendritic spines [see for example: Popoli M, et al. (2012), The stressed synapse: the impact of stress and glucocorticoids on glutamate transmission, Nature reviews Neuroscience. 2011;13(1):22-37.] – these changes are reversible through psychological means (e.g. when stressed, restrained animals are released as described in the same article). Studies have shown that as taxi drivers do their jobs (psychological causes), the brain changes. Jugglers gain more grey matter in certain areas as a result of engaging in juggling. Various psychological habits, choices, etc., can also change the brain. For example, research has also shown that impulsivity trait results in reductions in gray matter. On the other hand, mindfulness practices (that result in reductions in impulsivity) are known to change the structure and function of the brain in positive ways (e.g. increases in gray matter and cortical thickness). So, it is important to get the direction of causation right when interpreting these types of studies.
    Psychiatrists get this CAUSATION TOTALLY WRONG – they think the causation happens the other way around.

  • I agree with you Lawrence. Also, labels increase stigma.
    What someone facing mental issues needs is a lot of hope, support and interventions that can calm the mind – definitely not fancy labels and drugs.
    Regarding the need for going “beyond biology” and materialistic explanations of behavior (an issue addressed by several commenters here) – do you know that Buddhist teachings have comprehensively analyzed the mind (consciousness)? (and this understanding goes way beyond current mainstream psychological understandings). You may wish to read the following article:
    Karunamuni, N. and Weerasekera, R. (June, 2017), Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom, Current Psychology.
    http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12144-017-9631-7

  • Thank you Lawrence. Another thing is: although psychiatrists talk about chemical variations (and therefore, the need for medication), we need to remember that despite decades of research, scientists have not been able to find any structural or other brain differences between patients with ‘mental conditions’ and healthy individuals (this is why there are no objective tests to ‘detect’ them). But with time (after a label is given) structural differences seem to happen either because of the intake of medication or due to the added burden of receiving a label (lots of extra psychological stress to get a label and psychological stresses change the brain). Supporting this idea, a recent study found very few differences between the different disorders in terms of the distribution of the group differences across the brain. See: Sprooten, E., et al. (2017). Addressing reverse inference in psychiatric neuroimaging: Meta‐analyses of task‐related brain activation in common mental disorders. Human brain mapping, 38(4), 1846-1864. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hbm.23486/abstract

  • Hi Jill: You say that causation can be inferred from manipulated variable research. However, this is not what happens in natural settings. If you look at the comment I posted earlier, you will see that it is HUMAN EXPERIENCE (psychological causes) that brings about changes in neurons and neuro-chemicals. Brains do not change for no apparent reason at all – that is what the psychiatrists want us to believe.
    If someone loses one’s job, all the rumination/worry/regrets will change their brain chemicals and when the person gets a job again, these chemicals will return to normal again.

  • I agree. Lots of studies have shown that it is HUMAN EXPERIENCE that brings about changes in brain chemicals and also result structural changes in the brain. Mice subjected to various psychological stresses (e.g. being restrained) clearly show dendritic atrophy and loss of dendritic spines [see: Popoli M, et al. (2012), The stressed synapse: the impact of stress and glucocorticoids on glutamate transmission, Nature reviews Neuroscience. 2011;13(1):22-37.] – these changes are reversible through psychological means (e.g. when stressed, restrained animals are released as described in the same article). Other studies have shown that as taxi drivers do their jobs (psychological causes), the brain changes. Jugglers gain more grey matter in certain areas as a result of engaging in juggling. Various psychological habits, choices, etc., can also change the brain. For example, research has also shown that impulsivity trait results in reductions in gray matter. On the other hand, mindfulness practices (that result in reductions in impulsivity) are known to change the structure and function of the brain in positive ways (e.g. increases in gray matter and cortical thickness).
    The psychiatrists get this CAUSATION TOTALLY WRONG – they think the causation happens the other way around.

  • Negative effects of meditation happen due to a poor understanding of what constitutes mindfulness/meditation practices. Buddhist teachings comprehensively explain the mind (consciousness) – it is worthwhile reading the following new publication:

    Karunamuni, N., and Weerasekera, R. (2017). Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom, Current Psychology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12144-017-9631-7

  • I do not have time to carefully examine the details of this study, but I think it is worth considering the fact that the structure of the brain changes with one’s experiences (a phenomenon known as ‘brain plasticity’). Several studies including animal studies (where for example restrained animals have been tested) indicate that the structure of the brain changes as a result of psychological stresses. Now, when one is given a DSM label using a check-list (for ADHD or any other “disorder”), then thereafter, the person is considered to be a “person with that disorder” – this label itself can cause a great deal of stress to the person who has been assigned the label (i.e., the person can get depressed and stressed thinking that one is somehow different from others). As a result of the label, others may treat this person differently as well (e.g. not including the person in their social circles because he/she has that “disorder”). All this psychological stress would then result in changes in the brain and this difference could be what the scientists have observed. As I said, I do not have the time to carefully go through the study details, but if a few years have passed between people being assigned a ADHD label and the testing of brain differences, then we would expect to find structural differences. But as I explained, these differences are a direct result of the psychological stresses caused by a diagnostic label itself – not a result of having some kind of “disorder.”

  • Robert: Perhaps you should write a short commentary (reply) to that journal. It might save time however, if you write to the editor first and ask if he/she would consider a reply commentary. Also, it might be worthwhile to get a clinician to be a co-author.
    By the way, the following two research studies that have shown the same changes in brain scans in patients who respond to placebos and patients who take an actual drug might also come handy if you do decide to write a commentary (to mention that drugs can work sometimes for individuals because of their placebo effects, etc.).
    http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2443355 http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2443354

  • I recently came across the following mindfulness study – they have specifically tailored this mindfulness intervention to suit Parkinson’s disease (instructions given at a slower pace, simplifying the instructions, etc.) so that they could grasp it: http://downloads.hindawi.com/journals/pd/2016/7109052.pdf
    Mindfulness is known to bring about healthy changes in the brain – so if any chemical agent that destroyed the brain is no longer consumed, then the brain would begin to heal.

  • Regarding your question (why are we not using the mind map from 2600 years ago): I think the major reason is that these ancient understandings are cast aside as “religion” and are often ignored and assumed to be not the territory of psychology and psychiatry. It is only now (because mindfulness practice has become popular, and as a result of better access to many resources via the internet) that this information is coming out. If you take a look at the article (link I provided), you will understand how the model explains the “stream of consciousness” – the moment-by-moment manifestation of the mind-stream. By the way, I managed to download the pdf of your book – I congratulate you for all the time you would have put into it (and I also think that it may interest some people). As for me, I realized that the analysis presented is done at a conventional (relative) level. When studying the psyche, there are two levels of analyses (relative and absolute) – the article link I posted earlier explains this.

  • A recent study (published in June 2016) that tested “the MEND protocol” (that included dietary guidelines, meditation practice, yoga, etc.) found that Alzheimer’s patients who had had to discontinue work (due to the disease) were able to return to work, and those struggling at work were able to improve their performance, etc. The study was evaluated using MRI scans and neuropsychological testing. The link to the study (titled “The MEND Program Shows Promise for Reversing Cognitive Decline”) is here:
    http://www.drperlmutter.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Rev-Cog-Dec-2-on-6.13.16.pdf
    It is also interesting to note that in this study, most of the subjects had at least one copy of the APOE4 allele (a strong genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s), demonstrating that the effects of genes can be combatted.

  • shljock: Mental states (such as anxiety, depression, etc., which are caused by day-to-day stresses and lived experiences) will bring about changes in neurochemicals. But these changes can be reversed when these day-to-day problems are solved, when circumstances change, etc. (changes happen through neuroplastic and epigenetic mechanisms in the brain). In vary rare occasions (for example, if an infection happens, or when taking certain medications, etc.), the normal equilibrium of neurochemicals can be lost and that can bring about psychological issues. But this is very rare. In various organs of the body (spleen, liver, etc.,), only a very small number of people suddenly develop health problems due to biological abnormalities that just happen to occur in those organs. Therefore, it is unwise to simply assume that psychological issues are caused by biological abnormalities that just happen to materialize in the organ brain all of a sudden for no apparent reason at all. This is why I think psychological approaches are best.

  • Hi Ragnarok: 2600 years ago, the Buddha mapped the mind perfectly. See for example the following article: http://sgo.sagepub.com/content/5/2/2158244015583860 (in the link, you can download the pdf for free). Since your link is not an academic article and it goes to some unknown site, I do not want to download the whole thing (for the fear of viruses). But if you like, you can explain a summary of what you say in it.

  • Oldhead: in terms of ‘will and motivation,’ this can be understood by reading the article link I posted earlier (here’s the pdf link to it: http://sgo.sagepub.com/content/spsgo/5/2/2158244015583860.full.pdf ). It talks about the importance of separating the ‘conventional level of analyses’ from the ‘ultimate level of analyses’ (by the way, the separation of these two levels of analyses is described in all religious traditions).
    Most neuroscientists do not believe in ‘will and motivation’ – they simply say that everything happens via the brain. They say this because mental activity is associated with neural activity and it can also be observed that intentions originate as neural activity – however, there is a huge philosophical/ontological issue being ignored when analyzing this way.
    I have heard of several neuroscientists who use the terms ‘brain’ and ‘mind’ to refer to the same thing – they simply say: “the brain is the mind.” To me, brain is just another organ in the body that the mind knows about. Our minds experience/analyze the outside world (i.e., all external phenomena), and also experience/analyze the inside world (our body anatomy, physiology, including circulatory system, the nervous system and the brain). The “mind” constitutes sense impressions and mental phenomena that are constantly changing, as described in the article link I posted above.

  • I think volunteers can easily provide mental health services, especially since all what most people in distress want is someone to talk to. Many years ago, I volunteered for an organization that provided emotional support for people facing all types of issues. It was a free service and we effectively built rapport with the clients and also directed them to specialized services if/when needed. We did undergo training sessions where we were taught listening skills, how to ask open-ended questions, etc. Each volunteer worked there for a few hours every week.
    As I see it, learning various complex theories/methodologies in psychology (when obtaining a university degree) are not directly relevant or useful for talking to people in a friendly, helpful way. So, we probably do not need specialized professionals for mental health.

  • I think I too was challenging what you wrote, rather than criticizing. I would specifically challenge the part where you say “Oddly, this seems just psychological, but it is actually biological. Actually everything is biological.”
    This would mean that you wrote this article because your limbic system got active, and I am responding and commenting because my amygdala happened to respond?! As I mentioned earlier, although biological investigations can be carried out to find out which parts of the brain are associated with various mental phenomena, these are only associations. If a human mind were not there to interpret and hypothesize, we would not be talking about biological systems. In other words, biological understandings happen within individuals’ mind-stream that manifest from moment to moment (as I explained in my earlier post).

  • I hope my comments do not sound critical to you Robert. When I discuss these types of issues, my intention is to get at the truth rather than saying things merely to flatter the other person, so please forgive me if I sound rude.
    I agree that thoughts happen through biological processes and I agree with all what you say regarding how the brain links information, how different regions of the brain such as the amygdala and limbic system have their roles, etc. But these are all analyses done at a conventional level and as oldhead stated, what we are talking about here are correlations and not causations.
    An issue we tend to forget when we do all these analyses is that each and every one of us experience only one thought moment at a time (this is supported by research and I can give references if needed). For example, as I write this, thoughts are coming and going in a fast-flowing stream, changing moment to moment. As you read this too, thoughts are happening and changing from moment to moment. Anyone analyzing/being involved/engaged in anything (including analyzing the brain), or even if someone is not doing anything, they are experiencing thoughts changing from moment to moment. Attending to this thought stream, calming it and understanding it is what is known as sophia (the term used by Aristotle). This is a very different level of analyses (different from the conventional level of analyses) – this is explained in the article link I gave earlier.

  • I agree with ‘oldhead.’ As I see it, when talking about brain/mind issues, we need to separate two levels of analyses. Aristotle referred to these two levels using the philosophical terms: ‘phronesis’ and ‘sophia.’ The mind constitutes sense impressions and mental phenomena that are constantly changing. The brain is merely another organ in the body (like any other organ) that the mind knows about and analyses. In other words, it is the constantly changing mind-stream of an individual that analyses the brain.
    You can understand these two levels of analyses, if you read the following article:
    Karunamuni, N.D. (2015). The Five-Aggregate Model of the Mind. SAGE Open, 5 (2).
    (article link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/2158244015583860 )

  • Good point BPDT. For any drug, it is important to clearly understand whether they are nullifying “symptoms” to an external observer, or it is better at producing the results that people actually want (the patient’s inner experience). As I see it, any trial-and-error “treatment” would simply nullify the symptoms to satisfy an external observer.

  • Ron- Regarding your comment that someone with training could understand the complexities of drugs: Even if they knew something, it would be a list of perplexing names of drugs, along with a complicated list of brain regions as well as a separate list of fancy names that describe DSM categories. What else would they know? I do not think anyone can understand all the complexities of the brain, with billions of neurons and trillions of synapses, let alone how this information connects and interacts with various compounds that are introduced as well as how all this information connects to a person’s actual experience and wellbeing. Also something we forget is that all these understandings about the brain and neurons, etc., happen in an individual’s mind – so, it is much better to try to understand the mind. The mind was extensively analyzed 2600 year ago – see the following article to get an idea: http://sgo.sagepub.com/content/spsgo/5/2/2158244015583860.full.pdf

  • Regarding “it goes two ways” (the brain/mind), as I stated, it is very difficult to think that all of a sudden the brain would change (as a result of some biological/physiological abnormality happening for no apparent reason at all) in relatively young healthy individuals (or even in older individuals) – especially when considering that such sudden changes are extremely rare in other organs of our body.

  • In various organs of our body (such as the heart, liver, spleen, etc.), it is extremely rare that various problems spring up due to biological/physiological abnormalities that happen to suddenly arise from nowhere. But as soon as people display “mental illness,” a biological/physiological problem in the organ brain is presumed to cause it. Psychiatrists completely ignore neuroplasticity/epigenetics – according to which the changes seen (biological/physiological problems) are a result of mind-states (mind-states resulting from various psychological/social causes). In other words, their “causation” interpretation goes completely the other way around!
    One sentence in this article illustrates this point. The sentence: “It appears for example that adverse childhood events frequently lead to mental and emotional reactions that then lead not just to “mental health” problems later in life, but also to physiological reactions that then lead to much higher rates of physical illness.” If someone keeps proliferating/ruminating/regretting about their childhood experiences, this itself can lead to physiological/physical health changes over time. But if one learns to be open to experience (for example, through meditation/mindfulness training – which is the best way to prevent rumination, etc.- see: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735813001207 ), then I think one could potentially prevent these resulting physiological/physical complications from arising.

  • I agree Alex – scientists need to think “way outside the box.”
    In order to understand mental illness, we have to first try to understand what “normal” is. Scientists just assume (for no valid reason whatsoever), that being happy all the time is what is normal for people. But this is not necessarily correct.
    Also, if you talk to a typical neuroscientist, they will argue that the brain is the same as the mind! When I try to explain that it is the mind that thinks about the brain, and that the brain is just another organ in the body that is unable to talk for itself, they don’t understand. Meditation is about the mind – the mind-stream that is aware of the outside world, the inside world (including all the organs and the brain as well as the mind itself), and is capable of making itself calm. Calm mind-states also bring about healthy changes in brain structure, as studies in neuroplasticity have shown.

  • Ron: I am not too sure if those drugs can beat placebos, especially when there are no known “mechanisms of action” at all – these are all drugs that drug companies come up with on a trial-and-error basis. I have also heard that drug companies need to present only two trials that show that a drug is effective (to get approval) – therefore, what the drug companies do is to conduct many many trials and present two trials that happened to show results in a favorable direction for that drug.

  • Hi Ron, Here are a few other things that I feel should be considered regarding this issue:

    – Psychiatric drugs are only as good as placebos (so many studies point to this). It is not like psychiatrists understand the workings of the brain so precisely (the way diabetes is understood in terms of insulin deficits in the pancreas). Drug companies come up with these psychiatric drugs on a trial and error basis – so, snake oil or jellyfish juice may work equally well. The problem with all these drugs is their nasty side effects.

    – Don’t forget neuroplasticity – mind states bringing about structural changes in the brain. So, doctors may simply look at the structure of the brain and come up with medicines to treat (target) these abnormal structures. In reality these “abnormal” structures are reversible, as meditation interventions have shown – I can give references for this if needed.

    – I have observed that several psychiatrists have now gone into the field of mindfulness. Recently, I also came across a study published in the journal “neuroscience” where they investigated potential physiological markers of mindfulness meditation competence (as an objective assessment of mindfulness meditation quality – see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26850995). So perhaps, psychiatrists could also carry out these types of assessments to guide individual’s to mental health.

    – It is best not to conclude that dementia and Alzheimer’s are simply biological. Studies have shown that elevated default-mode activity of the brain is associated with amyloid plaque deposition (this is what defines Alzheimer’s). Elevated default-mode activity is also linked to rumination, worry and mental proliferation, etc. Studies have shown that mindfulness and all meditation practices significantly reduce rumination, worry, etc., thereby diminishing the activity of the default-mode network (I have listed some references that back these statements at the bottom of this post).

    Also, there are other studies that point to psychological causes of Alzheimer’s – for example, there is strong evidence that stress is linked to Alzheimer’s (see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26655068 ).

    The following references support what I wrote above (regarding the activity of the default mode network and Alzheimer’s):

    Brewer, J. A., Worhunsky, P. D., Gray, J. R., Tang, Y. Y., Weber, J., & Kober, H. (2011). Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(50), 20254-20259.

    Greicius, M. D., Srivastava, G., Reiss, A. L., & Menon, V. (2004). Default-mode network activity distinguishes Alzheimer’s disease from healthy aging: evidence from functional MRI. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 101(13), 4637-4642.

    Wells, R. E., Yeh, G. Y., Kerr, C. E., Wolkin, J., Davis, R. B., Tan, Y., … & Press, D. (2013). Meditation’s impact on default mode network and hippocampus in mild cognitive impairment: a pilot study. Neuroscience letters,556, 15-19.

    Garrison, K. A., Zeffiro, T. A., Scheinost, D., Constable, R. T., & Brewer, J. A. (2015). Meditation leads to reduced default mode network activity beyond an active task. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 15(3), 712-720.

    Larouche, E., Hudon, C., & Goulet, S. (2015). Potential benefits of mindfulness-based interventions in mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease: an interdisciplinary perspective. Behavioural brain research, 276, 199-212.

  • I think both of you are right. In terms of “becoming aware of the emotions and sitting with them” – it is useful to notice how these emotions (whether they are depression provoking or anxiety provoking) come and go during meditation. We can observe that we are not making them come, they come when they want to come, stay for a while and go away! If we deliberately try to make them come, they may not even come!
    Regarding what Fiachra says, “looking at situations once the emotions have passed” can also be quite useful, to get an ideal about the fleeting nature of these thoughts/situations.

  • I wish this article by William A. Wilson had a reference list. I would have liked to know the reference citation for the part “…, and in 2011 a group of researchers at Bayer decided to test it. Looking at sixty-seven recent drug discovery projects based on preclinical cancer biology research, they found that in more than 75 percent of cases the published data did not match up …..”
    If anyone has it, please post it.

  • Someone else: I think it all boils down to a great deal of deep rooted conditioning that happen in schools and in medical schools that make the upcoming generation to unquestioningly believe that materialism is an “absolute reality.” Rupert Sheldrake explains this well in his banned TED talk – he talks about the difference between “science as a method of inquiry based on reason, evidence, hypothesis and collective investigation vs. science as a belief system or a world view” he says that “the latter has started to inhibit and constrict free inquiry, which is the life blood of the scientific endeavor.” This worldview is the materialist worldview.
    Here’s the link to his talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKHUaNAxsTg

  • Nice article. And to think that so much funding goes to find out which neuron is connected to which neuron! I also think that even Alzheimer’s disease has psychological causes (such as stress, worry, regrets, etc., that activate the default mode of the brain leading to plaque formation – many studies point to this), although billions of dollars are currently spent to investigate its biological causes.

  • Bradford: Yes, they did talk about Toxoplasmosis. The original academic article I traced down is – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25892720 , and in that (and the articles it refers to), they just looked at the association of owning a cat in childhood and the presence of “mental illness” as an adult – for me the evidence (i.e., connecting to ‘simply owning a cat’) is not convincing – there can be many confounding factors involved in that association.

  • LOL! What they did was to make a connection to having had a cat in early childhood to having mental illness later as an adult (they found a slightly higher probability). They were linking the results to a possible influence of a parasite (always go for biological explanations). What they ignored is that owning a cat during childhood can be influenced by many other factors like the type of neighbourhood one grows up in, socioeconomic status, etc.
    But when news media report the study as if it is a direct link, it can incite fear and depression in people who had a cat during their childhood, and this excessive worry may itself gradually lead to ‘mental illness’!

  • Regarding the statement that many psychiatrists are unable to grasp other influences – today I was reading a news article about cat ownership being associated with mental illness (original study published in the journal ‘Schizophrenia Research’). The researchers took cases and controls (a group of people who had mental illness and a group that did not) and compared the percentages of cat ownership. But they completely ignored various confounding factors can operate in these types of situations. For example, things like socioeconomic status, location (urban, rural, etc.) and other factors can AFFECT CAT OWNERSHIP, and this can explain the results that were observed. This possibility is not even mentioned in the paper.

  • I happened to come across this article relating to anxiety and mindfulness:
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/my-ruminating-anxiety-trapped-me-in-my-thoughts-but-im-learning-to-wake-up/article28769774/
    It talks about the transient nature of thoughts, etc. This is the type of thing I meant when I mentioned ‘theory.’ At the beginning, people can get some benefit from meditation by not ruminating on thoughts (this is probably why this study had positive results). As one gets better at meditation, then they can see for themselves that even the most anxiety provoking thought comes and goes, and one becomes more proficient at catching the thought as soon as it arises. If someone goes for an extended retreat, I think it would be very helpful for them to know about these types of things.

  • As I see it, giving the label “autism” (or giving a label to any “mental illness”) should stop. This is because the diagnosis of mental illness is based entirely on doctor’s subjective evaluations (they use check-lists). There are no blood tests, tissue tests, X-rays or any of that – no objective tests at all. Diagnosis made this way also fails to meet the Virchowian standard of disease.
    So, do these “mental illnesses” even exist? It is the label that creates all the difficulties of stigma, etc. I think doctors should simply focus on treating symptoms of the patients (such as stress, worry, socializing issues, etc.) without assigning fancy names (labels) to various mental illnesses.

  • Someone Else,
    I am not denying electric activity in the brain! What I am saying is that we cannot point to electric activity and say “that’s the mind!” – this is because it is the mind itself that studies electrical activity in the brain – brains don’t talk. As I have stated earlier, it is the mind that thinks about the trees outside, about our body structures such as the digestive system, nervous system and even brain activity. So, the mind is a much more vast entity than mere electrical activity inside the head. If you read the article about the mind I posted sometime back, you might get an idea about the mind (link: http://sgo.sagepub.com/content/5/2/2158244015583860 ).
    Regarding NDEs, scientific studies have shown that patients recall descriptions of their resuscitation accurately – they recall what happened during the time their brain was clinically non-functional (when there was no electrical activity in the brain). It has been estimated that 25 million individuals worldwide have had a near death experience in the past fifty years, and these experiences have been reported throughout time in essentially all cultures, by not just religious individuals, but by atheists, agnostics as well as children who are commonly considered to be too young to have any real concept of death.
    Links for NDEs (scientific studies) : https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232463289_Near-Death_Experience_Out-of-Body_and_Out-of-Brain
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21988246

  • Thanks for sharing Someone Else. Dr. Jim Tucker’s books also have many interesting stories like that. I remember reading about a child who found things he had hidden in his previous life (when he was taken to the previous house), which no one else in his previous family knew about! Also, it seems some children report having existed in different realms (non-human) and he says that it is difficult ignore these statements in the context of other statements that the same child has made (on previous human births) that have been verified.
    I think near death experiences (NDEs) also strongly indicate that the mind is not mere electrical activity in the brain (as many scientists consider it to be).

  • Fiachra: This is a bit of sidetrack, but I believe in reincarnation as a possibility – not as a dogma. There is so much evidence for it that science currently ignores – it ignores only because it does not fit neatly with its ontological stance where a brain is needed to generate the mind.
    Many research studies (conducted by Dr. Ian Stevenson, Jim Tucker and many other researchers) have carefully investigated children who remember past lives. In these studies, children who present with memories of previous lives are extensively interviewed and if they give specific names or locations (cities, towns), the previous life individual is traced and verified using death certificates and autopsy records, etc. I think they currently have thousands of such cases (I have read books by these researchers).

  • Katie: Regarding your last sentence, I do not think psychiatrists do these things intentionally. They have been deeply conditioned (when they were in medical school, by established professors) to think that all “mental disorders” are neurological conditions, and these “disorders” need to be treated by treating the brain, by targeting neurotransmitters, using drugs, etc. They cling to this concept as the truth, without ever questioning it. The belief is so deep that they do not wish to even consider any alternative explanations – yet they occasionally say that the mind is not understood by science. This is a pathetic state that affects the whole of humanity.
    Perhaps MIA should specifically target/educate budding scientists and psychiatrists in universities and schools!

  • Hi madincanada:
    Despite decades of research, scientists have not been able to find any structural or other brain differences between patients who first show up with “mental illness” and healthy individuals. This is why doctors use subjective criteria to diagnose patients – they do not have any objective tests like blood tests. Yet, they give drugs (that the drug companies come up with) in a trial and error fashion.
    So, what happens is, when a person is labeled as “mentally ill” (and are often told that these “are long-term conditions”), for the patient, having a label itself can lead to a great deal of worry – thinking that one is mentally ill permanently, ‘doomed for life’, ‘why me’, etc. This will lead to excessive mental proliferation, worry, rumination, etc., and could in turn aggravate their situation (many psychological studies have clearly shown that rumination, worry, etc., lead to mental illness). A label can also increase stigma, affecting how others treat the person, further aggravating the whole situation. All this mental proliferation, worry, rumination, would also gradually result in adverse structural changes in the brain (via epigenetic and neuroplastic changes in the brain – there are so many studies that support this). Additionally, making matters worse, the drugs affect the brain in non-beneficial ways and you probably know that they also have really bad side effects. Then the person is really “mentally ill.”
    I personally suggest giving ‘mindfulness’ a try (I am telling this by having personally benefited immensely from this practise, and also know others who have benefited) – although it would have been better if he had started it much earlier in his treatment. You as the mother (dealing with all what your son is going through) can even benefit from participating in an 8-week MBSR program (one weekly class for 8 weeks). The skills you learn may even indirectly help your son.
    I wish you and your son the very best in your journey to recovery…

  • As I see it, studying and treating the brain to promote mental wellbeing is like studying all the biochemical pathways that are involved in wasting of skeletal muscles and strategizing how it can be manipulated with biochemicals with the hope of normalizing it (ignoring the fact that physical exercise can bring about this change naturally).
    Also in other organs in the body (organs like the liver, spleen, etc.) biological abnormalities are extremely rare. What I do not understand is, when it comes to the brain, everything is explained away as a biological abnormality that needs to be treated with a drug!

  • Hi madincanada,
    When your son was first diagnosed, did the doctor use check lists to diagnose him or use objective tests (i.e., blood tests)?
    Psychological interventions take time to work. Often, people get over these things even if you don’t do anything (see: http://nej.sagepub.com/content/19/4/451.abstract). When circumstances change in life, when he develops new interests, etc., things can change in most unexpected ways. But if he is given a label as being “mentally ill”, then this normalization would not happen, because the label itself causes him a lot of worry and mental proliferation (thinking that he is somewhat different from others, etc.), making him not engage in life. When this happens, all this mental proliferation brings about changes in the brain (epigenetic and neuroplastic changes) that maybe detectable in blood tests. Then when various drugs are given as treatment (on a trial and error basis), things can get so much worse. At least this is my perspective.

  • Thank you for this article. I agree that there are various physiological markers associated with increased inflammatory activity in the brain. But we should not forget that mental activity such as rumination, worry, etc., RESULT IN changes in the brain. In other words, more activated microglia in the brain (and other physiological changes) are CAUSED by such mental activity. Also, if issues like hearing voices were entirely caused by physiological events (that just happen to suddenly take place in the brain), then we would not be able to explain how such problems go away with practises such as mindfulness training and various psychological interventions. I think clinical studies are needed to assess how mind-related interventions bring about changes in all these brain chemicals that are listed in this article (changes in functioning of fast spiking GABA interneurons, deactivation of microglia in the brain, etc.).

  • Stigma comes only from the labels that the psychiatrists give the patients – if the doctors simply addressed the specific symptoms of the patients (worked on the symptoms to alleviate them using various interventions), there cannot be any stigma. It seems for all categories of DSM diagnoses, symptoms listed in their criterion sets are normally distributed in the general population (see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17716032).

  • I agree Fiachra. I find by developing mindfulness practice, it is possible to simply watch anxious thoughts arising and ceasing without proliferating them.
    I think scientists do not understand the mind at all. Because brain activity is correlated with mental activity, science simply assumes that the brain should be thoroughly studied and treated. Although in very rare cases studying the brain may have some practical applications, in most cases, social and psychological interventions bring about natural structural changes in the brain (through neroplastic and epigenetic changes mechanisms).

  • The brain may work in specific ways, but it is the mind (the neuroscientist’s mind-stream) that does all the analyses about what the brain does. Brains don’t talk. It is the mind that thinks and analyzes the outside environment, about how the liver works, how the nervous system works and how the brain works. All of us have a mind-stream that is changing all the time.

  • There is so much evidence to show that psychiatric medicines work only because of their placebo effect. So, if someone really really needs to be given medicines, I think it is best to give them blank pills (Germany does that) – that way, the person is not harmed by the medicine itself.
    In any case, a label (such as “you have X disease” – substitute X with some fancy name) should never be given for “mental illness” because that would trigger nocebo effects (which is the opposite of placebo effects). Nocebo effects lead to adverse outcomes. (I read about nocebo effects sometime back in a book titled ‘brain wars’ by Mario Beauregard.)

  • I have also thought of the following:
    We have many organs in our body. In organs like the liver, spleen, etc., what percentage of people have diseases as a direct result of a biological abnormality? I saw sometime back that the number is a very small (something like .03%? – couldn’t locate the exact number right now). So, as soon as people display “mental illness” why is it that a biological problem is assumed to cause it?
    Also, there is so much evidence that mind states actually cause the structure of the brain to change (epigenetics and neuroplasticity). For example, stress adversely changes neural structures and practises such as meditation and mindfulness normalize the brain (there is overwhelming evidence for this).
    In other words, the direction of causation goes the other way around. What these scientists are doing is, as soon as they see an association (mental states associated with different neural structures) they pounce on the conclusion that the brain caused it, and therefore the brain needs to be treated. They forget that association is not causation.

  • Thank you for your comment – I too find it tremendously useful.
    Although there is a general tendency among people to laugh at religion and embrace materialism, it is the religious leaders that actually experienced/probed into the mind.
    As stated in the article above, this is about separating sophia (wisdom) and phronesis (knowledge) – the two terms that Aristotle proposed. Religions are concerned with wisdom, whereas knowledge is about intellectual information gathering that keeps on accumulating.

  • Thank you for the article.
    The mind was analyzed in great detail 2600 years ago. The mind constitutes sensory input and mental phenomena that are constantly changing.
    Think of it this way: the brain and neurons do not talk about themselves. It is the mind that observes and thinks about them.
    The mind thinks about the trees outside, about our body structures such as the digestive system, nervous system and even the brain. Understanding the mind is referred to as developing wisdom.
    If you read the following article, you will understand what I am talking about:
    Karunamuni, N.D. (2015). The Five-Aggregate Model of the Mind. SAGE Open, 5 (2). (This article is accessible over the internet.)

  • Here’s Myth #15: “The brain secretes the mind just like liver secretes bile.”
    False. The justification for treating the brain with chemicals is because it is assumed that the ‘mind’ is merely electrical activity in the brain. We all know this is not correct (read this article if you like some ‘wisdom’ answers: http://sgo.sagepub.com/content/5/2/2158244015583860 ).
    Further, a great deal of evidence indicates that the mind exerts a powerful influence on brain structure (through epigenetic and neuroplastic mechanisms).

  • Interesting article. I recently came across the following articles that suggest teaching mindfulness-based practices to parents (of children with behavior issues) significantly reduces the parents’ stress levels, and this in turn brings about significant changes in the behavior of their children.

    Singh,N. N., Singh,A.N., Lancioni, G. E., Singh, J.,Winton, A. S.W.,& Adkins, A. D. (2010). Mindfulness training for parents and their
    children with ADHD increases the children’s compliance. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19, 157–166.

    Neece, C. L. (2014). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for parents of young children with developmental delays: applications for parental mental health and child behavior. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disability, 27, 174–186.

    Singh,N. N., Lancioni, G. E., et a. (2014). Mindfulness-Based Positive Behavior Support (MBPBS) for Mothers of Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Effects on Adolescents’ Behavior and Parental Stress. Mindfulness, 5, 646-657.

  • I think all this also boils down to the scientists’ persistent need to understand humans as brain driven machines (to understand the brain as a computer). They attach to this view so much that any evidence that goes against it is habitually ignored. Studies that have made direct observations of (changes in) neurons also show that acute and chronic stress induces structural changes in several brain areas such as shrinkage of neurons, simplification of dendrites and reduction of spine density as well as changes in brain circuits.
    See:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3645314/
    http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v15/n5/full/nn.3093.html
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26320029
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25335852
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25348768
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181836/
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16095592
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12151561
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3179117/pdf/pnas.201110444.pdf
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1550735/
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2893146/

  • AA,
    In the advocacy site you have given, individuals there have already come to the conclusion that they “have autism,” and are discussing issues related to how they can “deal with it.” As I see it, labelling gives the impression to the patient (as well as to the general public) that doctors know all about these conditions (such as their biological causes, and appropriate treatment, etc.). But this is not at all the case.
    Autism is often referred to as a ‘neurological disorder’ (which leads to talking about ‘neurological variation’) – if that is the case, why is it not possible to diagnose autism using an objective test (such as a blood test)? They use a vaguely worded checklist to diagnose ‘autism.’

    I agree that some people need support in learning how to cope with issues such as socializing or sensitivity issues. Rather than giving a label (i.e., without jumping into the conclusion that this person “has autism,” because they have a set of items on a checklist), perhaps these specific issues can be addressed for individuals. I also personally feel that mindfulness interventions could help such individuals enormously in addressing socializing or sensitivity issues.

    There is a great deal of evidence that the ‘mind’ brings about changes in brain structure. So, when someone is told (given a label) that they have a certain ‘disorder,’ (that has a name with a “permanent” feel to it) that itself can result in a great deal of pain to the individual over time. Proliferation, worry, rumination, etc., leads to mental illnesses (many psychological studies support this) – this is accompanied by changes in neural structures. Labelling makes one think that they are different from others, are “doomed for life”, etc. Labelling also increases stigma (people make statements such as “that kid is autistic,” and even avoid them for more in-depth discussions about various matters, making things worse).

    Some individuals outgrow autism (see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23320807 ). Is it possible that it is the label that prevents this from happening for all individuals?

  • I recently took part in an online web-chat on autism, and everyone was talking about what can be done regarding specific issues for their loved ones (or themselves) who “has autism.” I put up a comment saying that we need to question the assumption of “having autism” itself (we need to question the diagnosis process and the naming), and my comment was not even posted!
    I do not disagree that some individuals may have certain habits, mannerisms, etc. (for example, the diagnosis-checklist for children currently contains items like “does the child point fingers at articles of interest,” “do they climb on things”, etc.). As I see it, if these are concerns to a parent, then they should be dealt with as specific habits that need to be altered in a compassionate way.
    After a so called ‘diagnosis,’ if these children are being constantly told that they have some long term ‘mental illness’ and are also given drugs, then the situation becomes much worse gradually.
    I am so convinced that it is the ‘mind’ that changes brain structure. Even the news item posted today “Talk Therapy Linked to Changes in Brain Activity” gives evidence for this. If there are any (short term) effects of drugs, it is because of the placebo effect.

  • AA:

    I do not agree that autism (and other “disorders” with fancy names) are “legitimate diagnosis.” This is because these are diagnosed using a check-lists of behavior and there are no blood tests, tissue tests, X-rays, etc., and diagnosis made this way fails to meet the Virchowian standard of disease. Also, despite decades of research, scientists have not been able to find any structural or other brain differences between people who display these “mental illnesses” and healthy individuals. But once a person is told “you have this disease” (and are given the fancy name), it is devastating for the patient and all the stress from thinking that one has a mental disease (and somehow different from others) gradually triggers epigenetic and neuroplastic structural changes in the brain, and then the individual is really in need of help.
    You cannot compare mental conditions with sleep apnea because sleep apnea has a detectable cause (of airways collapsing and becoming blocked during sleep).
    These “mental disorders” with fancy names exist only in the psychiatrist’s mind.

  • I was also wondering that. A lot of damage can happen long-term (over several years) for individuals in the antidepressant group. This can happen because drugs can interfere with normal metabolic activities of the brain. Additionally, having a label for the disorders can also affect the individuals directly (in this case, the patients being told that they have “major depressive disorder” / MDD – based on doctor’s subjective evaluations; without any objective tests). Since these labels have a “permanent” feel to them, the label itself can cause a great deal of mental pain to the patient, increasing his/her mental proliferation, worry, anxiety, etc., triggering epigenetic changes and adverse changes in the brain over time (neuroplasticity).

  • I read a book by Bruce Lipton sometime back (title: ‘Biology of belief’), and he says “the notion that genes control biology has been so frequently repeated for such a long period of time that scientists have forgotten it is a hypothesis, not a truth.” He also says that “Unfortunately, scientists most often deny rather than embrace exceptions” just like ‘germ theory’ that was rejected when it was first proposed.
    I hope they teach epigenetics in schools, otherwise the future generations would also be just as ‘deluded,’ clinging to/defending their views.

  • Good to know all this. Additionally, we should not forget that social influences, as well as ‘mind’ related interventions change the expression of genes in expected directions.
    I posted some links in an earlier post – here are a few additional ones:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1550735/
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16095592
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22777883
    http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v15/n5/full/nn.3093.html

  • They may even have good memory – before improved standards of antenatal care were available, Lorber (1981) had studied hundreds of patients who displayed normal and above normal IQ’s in spite of having severely reduced brain tissue. [Reference: Lorber J. Is your brain really necessary? Nurs Mirror. 1981 Apr 30;152(18):29-30.]
    Also there had been an article in Lancet titled “Half brain but not half function”: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(02)09793-3/references

  • There are no brain differences when people are first diagnosed – this is why doctors do not use (and do not have) any objective tests when diagnosing patients. They only use subjective check-lists. After a patient is given a label (based on subjective evaluations), having a label itself can be devastating, leading to more depression/worry and thinking that they are somehow different from others, etc. A label can also increase stigma making things even worse for the patient. All this mental proliferation and worry gradually bring about adverse structural changes in the brain (the mind’s ability to change brain structure = neuroplasticity).

  • Below are some more points to contemplate in addition to what is presented in the Kinderman article:

    – Despite decades of research, scientists have not been able to find any structural or other brain differences between patients who present with mental illnesses and healthy individuals. If mental illnesses are a result of biological abnormalities, it should be possible to detect these mental illnesses just like any other disease (like detecting diabetes).

    – Because there are no differences between the brains of patients who present with mental illness and healthy individuals, various labels (naming of mental illnesses) are based entirely on doctor’s subjective evaluations. There are no objective tests at all – there are no blood tests, no tissue tests or X-rays, etc. Diagnosis made this way also fails to meet the Virchowian standard of disease.

    – The discovery of neuroplasticity (the mind’s ability to change brain structure) seems to be often ignored. Mind-related interventions (such as mindfulness interventions and psychotherapy) have shown that such interventions not only result in healthy structural changes in the brain but even bring about changes in genetic expression (see: http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=2010-25386-001 ; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26106351 and http://pps.sagepub.com/content/6/6/537.abstract .

    – Individuals who are ‘diagnosed’ (using subjective criteria as explained above) with mental illnesses, are often given a label. Since many of these labels have complicated names and often end with the term ‘disorder’, these labels have a permanent feel to them. When a label is received, having the label itself leads to thinking that one is mentally ill permanently, ‘doomed for life’, ‘why me’, etc. This will lead to excessive mental proliferation, worry, rumination, etc., and could in turn aggravate mental illness (many psychological studies have shown that rumination, worry, etc., lead to mental illness). A label can also increase stigma, affecting how others treat the person, further aggravating the situation. All this mental proliferation, worry, rumination, would also gradually result in adverse structural changes in the brain (neuroplasticity).

    – In conducting research for treatments for mental illnesses, currently, the main focus is to analyze the brain to understand the mind (bio-medical model of mental illness). As a result of this focus, the aim is to develop a drug for every ‘ailment’. But if we pause and try to understand the mind/brain correspondence, people completely forget that it is the mind that talks about the brain. Brains do not talk about themselves. The mind thinks about the trees outside, about our body structures such as the digestive system, nervous system and even the brain. An ancient model of the mind can help us understand this further – see: http://sgo.sagepub.com/content/5/2/2158244015583860

    – Skeletal muscles waste away if they are not exercised regularly. We know this as a causal fact – so, we do not focus our energies on developing a drug to prevent muscles from wasting away. Likewise, less activity in the mind (such as when engaged in an intellectual activity or when engaged in meditation) is linked to less activity in the default mode network of the brain. Less activity in the default mode network of the brain leads to favorable structural changes in the brain (neuroplasticity). High activity of the default mode network (e.g. proliferation, worry, rumination, etc.) leads to mental illness as well as adverse structural changes in the brain.
    Giving a label for mental illnesses (based on DSM criteria) add to the already existing rumination, worry, etc., and that itself can make matters worse for the patient. Instead of giving labels to mental illnesses, it would be best to simply focus on the symptoms of a patient (such as stress, worry, hearing voices, a habit, etc.) and direct attention on treating those specific symptoms.
    Considering the causal pathways discussed above, except for a very small minority of patients, alleviating symptoms should be done using psychological interventions.

  • So many studies have shown that interventions directed at the ‘mind’ changes brain structure (we call it neuroplasticity). Yet, drug companies keep trying to develop drugs for mental illnesses.
    If we take Alzheimer’s disease for example, drug companies keep trying to develop drugs to prevent plaque formation in the brain. Yet, programs directed at the ‘mind’ (such as mindfulness programs) have consistently shown that these programs prevent plaque formation in the brain and also positively change brain structure.
    Think of the following scenario: skeletal muscles waste away if they are not exercised regularly. We know this as a causal fact – therefore, we do not focus energies on developing a drug to prevent muscles from wasting away.
    Likewise, less activity in the mind (such as when engaged in meditation exercises) is linked to less activity in the default mode network of the brain. Less activity in the default mode network of the brain leads to favorable structural changes in the brain (neuroplasticity). High activity of the default mode network (e.g. proliferation, worry, rumination, etc.) leads to mental illness (psychological studies support this). Further, high activity of the default mode network leads to adverse structural changes in the brain.
    As I see it, this is the causal pathway that should be followed by research and investigated further.

  • If mental illnesses are a result of biological abnormalities, it should be possible to detect these mental illnesses just like any other disease (such as detecting a condition like diabetes). But despite decades of research, scientists have not been able to find any structural or other brain differences between psychiatric patients and healthy individuals.
    Due to this, diagnosis and labelling of mental illness is based entirely on doctor’s subjective evaluations (check lists) – there are no blood tests, tissue tests, X-rays or any of that – no objective tests at all. Diagnosis made this way also fails to meet the Virchowian standard of disease.
    Having a label itself can be devastating to a patient, leading to more depression and thinking that they are somehow different from others, etc. Since the mind can change the brain (neuroplasticity) – as a result of a label, thinking that one is mentally ill and different from others, and ‘doomed for life,’ etc., can itself lead to more worries and depression over time, which would also change the brain (adversely) gradually.
    I think instead of giving labels to mental illnesses, treatment should focus on the symptoms of the patient (such as stress, worry, a habit, hearing voices, etc.) and direct attention on treating those specific symptoms. This will also reduce stigma.

  • I question the concept of giving labels to various mental illnesses. Diagnosis of mental illness is based entirely on doctor’s subjective evaluations – there are no blood tests, tissue tests, X-rays or any of that – no objective tests at all. Diagnosis made this way also fails to meet the Virchowian standard of disease. Instead of giving labels to mental illnesses, I think treatment should focus on the symptoms of the patient (such as stress, worry, a habit, hearing voices, etc.) and direct attention on treating those specific symptoms. This can itself reduce stigma.

  • This article says Buddhist teachings are meant to “change our sense of self” – this is incorrect.
    If one reads Buddhist texts, mindfulness and meditation practices are a means to “see things as they are.” Also, recent studies indicate that mindfulness meditation contributes to a more coherent and healthy sense of self and identity (see: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10550887.2014.991657 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4310269/
    Also, the article sited here (in “The Conversation”) is a poorly researched article, citing old selected references. There are numerous research studies that have demonstrated the many benefits of meditation (too many to list here). Also, a 2015 systematic review (that included a combined total of 8683 participants) found that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs alleviate symptoms of a variety of mental and physical disorders.