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Medical Mental illness: just psychobabble?

  1. Dec 28, 2006 #1
    Thomas Szasz and the antipsychiatry movement claim that the brain is somehow radically different than the rest of the body, that symptoms of mental illness are medically untreatable, nonexistant or figments of society. So what of the ancient history of psychoactive substances which have affected the brain in an albeit crude way? Cannot modern biochemistry and psychotherapy treat mental illness in an improved manner, just as eliminating social stigma is so deservedly acknowledged to do?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 28, 2006 #2


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    Well, I would start with an admittedly woefully inadequate "definition":
    Any person can be considered mentally ill who regularly engages in activities destructive of his own happiness, or well-being otherwise define (for example his ability to "relate" to others).

    As for Szasz, I'd say that I don't think there necessarily exists any single, identifiable "place" in the brain where the mental disease resides.
    This, however, doesn't mean that there cannot be possible to devise drugs that make some self-destructive life-choices less probable.
  4. Jan 8, 2007 #3
    Many mental illnesses like schizophrenia can be detected as brain malfunctions on MRI scans. If it were imaginary, it is very doubtful that it could be detected on an MRI. In addition, dramatic improvements in mental illness have been seen when using psycoactive drugs. Thomas Szasz is a quack.
  5. Jan 9, 2007 #4


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    Well stated. Arildno also has a good point, that the term "mental illness" is used pretty loosely to include both physical disease of the brain/nervous system (schizophrenia, alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, parkinson's, etc), as well as behavioral disorders that may be part of the normal variation of learned behaviors but inappropriately expressed in modern society (i.e., fear).

    Generally, the big challenge to treating mental illness medically is accessing the appropriate target sites. It's a real challenge to develop drugs that will cross the blood brain barrier to be effective in the brain. It's also a challenge that the same chemicals can have different actions in different parts of the brain, and any drug that does get into the brain will affect ALL of those sites of action, not necessarily just the one you are trying to treat. Though, that is true throughout the body as well, which is why side effects of drugs are hard to avoid when they act on unintended targets.

    Those who dismiss mental illness as not being a physical ailment usually do so out of ignorance.
  6. Jan 9, 2007 #5
    Although there are a few dozen neurotransmitters, the sites they act on measure at least in the hundreds. Then consider all of the permutations of neurotransmitters and sites acted upon by a potential medication - astronomical!
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