You might find this interesting: Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival of Ideas Debate: Controlling Moods and Minds: Depression and Smart Drugs

First half was about depression and included a writer talking about her own experiences of psychiatric care.

Missed some of the very start but found it interesting enough to have listened to the start now.

Bit of a one foot in front of the other day today. Glad it's my last day in the office this week today.

2 Replies

  • Hi,

    This discussion is interesting. I met Prof. Richard Bentall several times, his department's research is thorough and supports my own view that drugs can be useful but thinking of emotional problems as mental 'illness' is not backed by the research evidence, nor is the idea of mental illness being genetically based.

    Evidence demonstrates that certain temperamental characteristics such as responsiveness or activity levels can make some people respond more sensitively to events and as a result they are more predisposed to feeling stressed than other people. There is also evidence that the more stress people are under the increased likelihood of them finding it difficult to cope. Depending upon their temperament some people will cope less easily with stress than others and the result is they are more likely to struggle and develop what we call mental illness.

    The evidence is that increased levels of stress during childhood, including conflict in the home, bullying, social isolation or insecurity as well as major trauma such as abuse is associated with vastly increased likelihood of emotional problems in adulthood and that the majority of people with serious mental illnesses including prolonged depression have experienced trauma in childhood.

    Trauma overwhelms with the brain's ability to process emotional information in particular and the reason why drugs can be effective is that they help ease that situation - but that does not mean the cause of the emotional problem is biochemical, just that experiences have become too stressful for the brain to understand and drugs can alleviate the effects of those experiences for some people.

    I agree that viewing people as ill rather than as someone who is struggling with difficult experiences increases stigma and can lead to feelings of helplessness - if a person is told they have a genetic disorder which results in a biochemical inbalance it not only labels the person but also denies the experiences. For example, most people with Borderline Personality Disorder are seen as 'difficult ' people or people with difficult personalities rather than as people who are struggling still with difficult experiences in their pasts - having society wrongly attribute the problem to them can and does increase the sense of injustice and helplessness.

    Enough ranting from me - it's a really useful discussion. I used to teach using much of the material in it and know it well but it still provokes thought, so thanks for the link.

    What's your own view?


  • My own reading includes looking at how the brain develops in younger years and how lack of supportive interactions can lead to connections in the brain not developing as effectively as they might with the result that we either develop anxiety patterns (taking a long time to clam down - where comforting from carers was erratic) or become repressors (totally cutting ourselves off from our feelings as the only way of calm down - where comforting was non-existent) because the normal stress relief routes don't develop. That's a bit different for me than 'childhood traumas' but as the word 'trauma' actually comes form the greek word for route it probably isn't that differen - but linguistically it does feel different.

    I think I fall into the anxiety category and that is probably because my father (whom I adored and was actually a source of support when I was in my teenage years) was always at work and my mother was prone to fits of anger that were totally unpredictable - so that's the source of the randomness that leads to my finding that I take a long time to calm down when I get upset. That isn't to say that I really blame my mother as I think I inherited a susceptibility to depression from my father - just that her behaviour helped it to manifest as a problem.

    My own experiences of the short stay I did have in a psychiatric hospital seem to me to have been atypical as I can actually remember there being 'therapy' session though I can't say I felt that they were particularly helpful to me and as I was voluntary patient who was finding the environment quite stressful I actually walked out after a few days.

    It was quite interesting for me to hear people saying that they had found the labelling as an illness quite unhelpful as it had forced them into patterns of behaving and accepting themselves as out of the norm - think though that I found that more interesting in light of recent program on disability (2nd part of disowned and disabled and the whole 'social model of disability' approach - ie that we aren't actually disabled it's just the norms that society imposes on us that make us feel that we are and actually what we need to do is challenge those norms - because usually that aren't things that not only make it difficult for us but also make it difficult for whole groups of people - in terms of the physical the classic example would probably be the use of steps - which don't just make life a problem for wheel chair users but are also a problem for mothers with pushchairs and a whole host of others ... though at times steps are useful - better than a steep ramp for a frame user ... the basic idea is that the problem isn't the person but society's inability to come up with a range of solutions that meet a range of user needs.

    Why on earth do we all accept the social conventions that say that we shouldn't cry or own up to being stressed when the reality is that at least 25% of us are suffering in silence because we don't speak out. Bursting into tears isn't a sign of weakness - sometimes it is a sign of strength!

    Another thing that was really interesting was that there was a strong sense among those taking part that actually drugs aren't the answer when it comes to conditions like depression (though they do tend to be very useful where psychosis is thrown into the mix) and they are actually part of the problem because they encourage us to bury rather than debate the real issues - and issues mention included movement towards living in towns, changes in family structures and support mechanisms etc. So probably back to the social model of disability and the inability of society around us to come up with solutions to a range of user needs.

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