Initially, mental illness was thought by many to be a plague of the spirit and was tended to thusly: exorcisms, fire, blood rituals, etc. Thanks in large part to the efforts of Clifford W. Beers, and philosopher William James, the concept of mental hygiene forced its way into academic notice, steadying a sea of biochemical propositions. Now, we’re stranded somewhere between both approaches. Diseases of psychosis are recognized medically, but there’s this growing antipathy toward psychopharmacology. The resistance is congruently staffed by the pseudosciences and authenticated mindfulness techniques.
Interoception, previously reported on by Ladders, refers to the sense that keeps us in tune with our bodies’ wants and needs. Some experts have suggested that various medications have blunted this function, which leads us down a tortured path of fluctuating regimens. It has also been argued that even at their best, it’s not enough to just exclusively address the neuropsychology of mental diseases; that some aspects of an unpleasant state of mind ought to be preserved.
In The Meaning of Madness, psychiatrist and philosopher Neel Burton compellingly argues that solely placing the blame of the epidemic on our unique complement of genes urges societies to avoid important questions regarding the true pathology of psychosis. Burton writes, “To make them believe that they are suffering from some chemical imbalance in the brain and that their recovery depends solely or even mostly on popping pills is to do them a great disfavour: it is to deny them the precious opportunity not only to identify and address important life problems but also to develop a deeper and more refined appreciation of themselves and the world around them—and therefore to deny them the opportunity to fulfill their highest potential as human beings.”
Chemical imbalances certainly need to be addressed, but empirical and anecdotal evidence requests more fertile middle ground. In the midst of a widely reported surge in suicide rates amongst teens, a new study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry strengthens the orthodoxy. Forty percent of the 800,000 people that commit suicide annually had been diagnosed with some breed of chemical imbalance beforehand. The remaining 60% occasioned circumstantial reasons.
Social bonds could be a key
The trouble is, the brain is both highly reactive and highly unpredictable. Sometimes, the blunt instruments meant to treat its maladies end up reinforcing the symptoms. When the consequence of rolling the dice, is potentially a fatal one, more tact must be employed. The new study motions that teens that have an active adult mentor in their lives were considerably less likely to succumb to their suicidal ideations compared to those that did not. Alongside clinical consultation, it’s important that teens are secured by strong social bonds so that they don’t feel overwhelmed during the frenetic process of a medication adjustment. From the report:
“Suicide attempts specifically were higher in schools where students were more isolated from adults, and student nominations of adults were concentrated among fewer students (i.e. a few students had disproportionately more trusted adults vs. other students). Schools in which 10 percent more students were isolated from adults correlated to a 20 percent increase in suicide attempts.”
Clinical remedies will only improve as time goes on, but in the interim, suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst ten to 18-year-olds and statistics are increasing 2% every year. Researchers must match the rising trend with fastidious scrutiny of every potential factor, cause, and solution.
A new study presents an unlikely factor
And in even more disturbing news, a new report published in PLOS Biology posits that exposure to pollution during the first 10 years of life puts individuals at much greater risk (more than double) for developing several chronic psychological disorders, namely depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. The abstract from the study states: “These results show that air pollution is significantly associated with increased risk of psychiatric disorders. We hypothesize that pollutants affect the human brain via neuroinflammatory pathways that have also been shown to cause depression-like phenotypes in animal studies.”
The research derived its conclusion from two massive data sets, each composed of environmental statistics-one for the US, the other for Denmark. After coupling this information with health insurance databases and various medical registries, it was determined that rates of depression and bipolar disorder were considerably higher in areas of poor air quality.
“Our study shows that living in polluted areas, especially early on in life, is predictive of mental disorders in both the U.S. and Denmark,” computational biologist Atif Khan, who is the first author of the study, commented in a statement to Medical News Today.
The medical community is divided regarding the implications of the findings. In fact, the journal Plos went so far as to publish a research paper titled, “Air pollution as cause of mental disease: Appraisal of the evidence“, authored by Professor John Ioannidis that shames the limitations of the study and the vague nature of the data within. To this effect, Ioannidis writes, “Despite analyses involving large datasets the available evidence has substantial shortcomings and a long series of potential biases may invalidate the observed associations. More analyses by multiple investigators, including contrarians, are necessary.”
More research needs to be conducted in order to substantiate the validity or censure of either paper respectively. As it stands, proven last month with the Williamson debacle and again in the dueling papers published by Plos, when it comes to mental health commentary, one should always leave a little room for the contrary view.