Post Of The Week – Thursday 17th April

1) Oxytocin – Myth And Truth

Oxytocin is a hormone which has had a mention or two on this blog, most recently last week in relation to research suggesting that it could be used to treat autism. This article explains three of the myths surrounding oxytocin and what research actually tells us.

It’s a nice example of how media coverage simplifies complex and only partially understood processes. We’ve seen elsewhere how dopamine has received similar coverage.


2) Explanation, Therapy, Services

We often see in the material we study the connection between explanation and therapy. Once researchers can explain something, it should be possible to treat it. What those therapies are is also part of what we study. The bit we don’t study is the question of how treatments are delivered and changes in provision are decided. This news release from the BPS suggests that opportunities are being missed. Prevention is better and much cheaper than cure but resources are not going into preventative therapies.

This has an impact in the part of the world where we live. The quality of care is high but people have to wait a long time to get at it. This news story explains the detail.

Finally, with the broader context of mental health in mind, this news story looks at the Housing First initiative in Canada. The idea is a simple one. If you spend money on providing shelter for people, you do not have to spend more money on dealing with the consequences of homelessness on someone’s mental health.


3) Why are women still considered more insane than men?

This article was published at the time of the release of DSM 5 in 2013. It focuses on how issues of gender affect our perceptions of mental health.

There was a time when we looked at gender in relation to depression as part of our course but that was a while ago. This article looks at the issue of gender and mental illness from several different angles. It reminds us that as women adopt positions of power and influence within healthcare systems, perceptions of gender and health will change.


4) Joanna Moncrieff – Challenging Bipolar

We increasingly hear about bipolar in the media. I’ve even heard students as young as Year 8 refer to themselves as being a bit bipolar. Stephen Fry and other celebrities have spoken about their experience of bipolar disorder, doing much in the process to break down the stigma of mental illness. A new paper by Joanna Moncrieff encourages us to think again about bipolar disorder. She suggests that diagnoses of bipolar disorder have become more common because once bipolar disorder becomes seen as as everyday problem, drugs can be prescribed for large numbers of people to treat it. This means big profits for drug companies. Along the way, bipolar disorder goes from being a serious and complex disorder with multiple causes to being a brain disease treated by drugs. This becomes particularly serious when applied to the emotional ups and downs some children experience: that is now “paediatric bipolar disorder”. You can read an abstract of Joanna Moncrieff’s paper here:

If you want to read the whole paper, it can be downloaded from here.


5) Adolescent Mental Health As A Predictor For Later Problems

We have seen in some of the work of Thomas Insel that researchers now see many mental health disorders as chronic conditions of adolescence which extend into adulthood.

This large scale study of adolescent and early adult health goes some way both to supporting and challenging this assertion. It’s true that for many people, the signs of adult mental health problems are present in adolescence but it is not everybody. What’s interesting here is what can be done to stop poorly adolescents turning into poorly adults. As noted earlier in this post, early interventions and supportive social environments are crucial. As with other Mental Elf articles, there’s some very good discussion of methodology.


6) Epigenetics

Epigenetics is a big idea at the moment. The big idea is that our genetic code is shaped by the environments in which we find ourselves. Quite what this means and how this works is not always clear. Some claims are even grander than this, suggesting that traumatic experiences influence the transmission of genes from one generation to another so that the stressful events of the parents’ lives are negatively experienced by the children.

The science in this article is complicated. The big idea is that none of this is really proven, which is a relief.


7) Ruby Wax

Ruby Wax is a comedian and a mental health campaigner. She has recently completed a master’s degree in Mindfulness based CBT at the University Of Oxford. Here, she talks a bit about the experience. You can see a link to a review of her new book “Sane New World”.

Her website is here.


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