Friday, June 7, 2013

US government's seal of approval for biopsychiatry – it’s political

The White House has set up a mental health information and help site, and it’s terrible. It contains all of biopsychiatry’s debunked myths, and determinedly pushes drugs.
• “Depression is a serious medical illness that involves the brain.”

• “Depression is a disorder of the brain.”

• “There are effective treatments for depression, including antidepressants…”

• “Schizophrenia is a severe, lifelong brain disorder.”

• “No one is sure what causes schizophrenia, but your genetic makeup and brain chemistry probably play a role. Medicines can relieve many of the symptoms, but it can take several tries before you find the right drug. You can reduce relapses by staying on your medicine for as long as your doctor recommends. With treatment, many people improve enough to lead satisfying lives.”

• “Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness.”

• “Researchers think brain circuits may not work properly in people who have OCD.* It tends to run in families.”

• “If not treated, bipolar disorder can lead to damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. However, there are effective treatments to control symptoms: medicine and talk therapy.”

• “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a real illness.”

• “Medicines can help you feel less afraid and tense. It might take a few weeks for them to work.”
So the White House is interested in serving the needs of the APA and the drug companies rather than helping struggling people through science-based policy.

The timing is interesting. The site looks sort of thrown together, like it was created in response to the crisis occasioned by the launch of the DSM-5 and the NIMH announcement. The site lists the NIMH as a source, but the biopsychiatric claims made are exactly what the NIMH has recently publicly stated lack scientific validity.** It looks suspiciously like the White House is using this site to lend biopsychiatry its authority. That’s all biopsychiatry has at this point: political and media institutions lending their voice of authority to a model that can’t be supported by science.

It’s embarrassing and frustrating. But more important, it’s political. We have the government pushing lies – lies that its own agencies have publicly declared to be such – to convince people that their distress is caused by their malfunctioning brains. This has the effect of depoliticizing suffering and rebellion. It gives a political meaning to suffering, and that meaning is that it has little to do with political experiences or policy. Racism, patriarchy, our alienation from and destruction of other animals and the rest of the natural world, our country’s wars, foreclosures, unemployment, economic insecurity, personal debt, massive and growing inequality, the corporate subversion of democracy, austerity measures, the constant stream of propaganda urging us to consume, a hypercompetitive and status-based culture, authoritarian work environments, authoritarian welfare programs, government agencies spying on us,… - these are of little importance in understanding mental well-being, evidence be damned.

In this presentation, corporations aren’t part of the problem, they’re part of the solution. Like the government, they’re offering help, in the form of medications. In fact, the brain-disease-drug model provides a way for corporations and governments to exercise power and to profit in the name of providing care. To understand the political implications, imagine that the site wasn’t put up by the US government but by the East German government during the Cold War. Various forms of psychic distress and maladjustment are described, against all evidence, as disorders of people’s brains. Drugs from Russia are promoted as useful medications, sometimes to be coercively or forcibly administered, as they are to children on a wide scale.

As I’ve said, this can’t continue for long. People will increasingly come to realize that the model they’ve been sold all these years is false. The “authoritative” propaganda of powerful institutions notwithstanding, the crisis of biopsychiatry is just beginning. But going forward, it’s essential to recognize this as a fundamentally political matter.

* The bit about malfunctioning “brain circuits” being the suspected cause of “OCD” is telling. This brain circuit business has been Insel’s preferred form of biopsychiatric propaganda for a while now, despite the fact that he’s not even able to define a brain circuit and can’t produce any evidence for the claim.

** Just as a reminder: Thomas Insel wrote last month that “The weakness [of the DSM] is its lack of validity. Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure.” In his response, APA head David Kupfer admitted that after several decades they’re “still waiting” for biomarkers.

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