Tag: psychiatry

Bioethics Blogs

Diagnostic dilemmas: When potentially transient preexisting diagnoses confer chronic harm

By Elaine Walker
Elaine Walker is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Emory University.   She leads a research laboratory that is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to study risk factors for psychosis and other serious mental illnesses.  Her research is focused on the behavioral and neuromaturational changes that precede psychotic disorders.   She has published over 300 scientific articles and 6 books. 
The diagnostic process can be complicated by many factors. Most of these factors reflect limitations in our scientific understanding of the nature and course of disorders. But in the current US healthcare climate, legislative proposals concerning insurance coverage for preexisting conditions add another layer of complexity to the diagnostic process. It is a layer of complexity that is riddled with ethical dilemmas which are especially salient in the field of mental health care. The following discussion addresses the interplay between medical practice and health-care system policy in the diagnostic process. The diagnosis of psychiatric disorders is emphasized because they present unique challenges [1]. 

Of course, some of the complications associated with diagnosis are a function of ambiguous and/or changing diagnostic criteria. For example, the criteria for designating the level of symptom severity that crosses the boundary into clinical disorder change over time as a function of scientific advances. This has occurred for numerous illnesses, including metabolic, cardiovascular, and psychiatric disorders [2]. Further, especially in psychiatry, diagnostic categories undergo revision over time, even to the extent that some behavioral “syndromes” previously considered an illness have been eliminated from diagnostic taxonomies.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Mental Privacy in the Age of Big Data

By Jessie Ginsberg
Jessie Ginsberg is a second year student in the Master of Arts in Bioethics program and a third year law student at Emory University. 

A father stood at the door of his local Minneapolis Target, fuming, and demanding to speak to the store manager. Holding coupons for maternity clothes and nursing furniture in front of the manager, the father exclaimed, “My daughter got this in the mail! She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”
Target was not trying to get her pregnant. Unbeknownst to the father, his daughter was due in August.  
In his February 16, 2012 New York Times article entitled, “How Companies Learn Your Secrets,” Charles Duhigg reported on this Minneapolis father and daughter and how companies like Target use marketing analytics teams to develop algorithms to anticipate consumers’ current and future needs. Accumulating data from prior purchases, coupon use, surveys submitted, emails from Target that were opened, and demographics, a team of analysts render each consumer’s decision patterns into neatly packaged data sets tailored to predict their future buying choices. 

Flash forward to 2017, a time where online stores like Amazon dominate the market and cell phones are reservoirs of personal information, storing intimate details ranging from your location to your desired body weight to your mood. Furthermore, data analysis algorithms are more sophisticated than ever before, gobbling up volumes of information to generate highly specific and precise profiles of current and potential consumers.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

The Impossibility of the Inert: Placebo and the Essence of Healing by Thomas J. Csordas

The concept of placebo is predicated on the opposition between active and inert, deploying this opposition to assert that an action or substance with no inherent active principle can have a paradoxical effect “as if” it were active.1 My thesis is that there is no such thing as the inert in human affairs, relationships, or experience. Think of the apparently simple retort of the bullied child that “sticks and stone may break my bones but names can never hurt me.” Contrary to this retort, names can indeed hurt. They are not inert, but carry an actual force identifiable as hate or disdain. And what of the retort itself? Is it a vain, desperate, and ultimately inert act of self-protection, effective only insofar as it taps into the “as if” logic of the placebo? I think not, though like any remedy it must be applied under the right conditions and with the understanding that it may not be uniformly effective in the degree to which it buffers the noxious influence of name-calling with an equivalent, self-confident force of self-esteem. There is also, however, an easily overlooked element of materiality in the retort. That is its rhythm: the fact that it is phrased in trochaic meter. It is not only that meter adds the force of incantation or song, but that it directly engages the embodied existential immediacy of the situation, contributing an element of jauntiness encompassing not only tone of voice but posture and gesture.

The notion of materiality as I have just used it is of value in reflecting on the impossibility of the inert.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Making the theoretical practical: Engaging undergraduate students in research methods by Hannah Mohammad

I am currently an undergraduate student in the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine at King’s College London. The Department’s UG program offers students the opportunity to study social aspects of health and medicine in a multi-disciplinary context with close collaboration between the social sciences, life sciences and biomedicine. In addition, a great emphasis is put on methods training to equip students to carry out their own empirical research projects.

Already in first year, the Research Practice and Design Studio course taught us theories and practices required for qualitative and quantitative research. However, in our undergraduate bubble, these late Tuesday afternoon sessions seemed somewhat distant from conducting actual research. In order to address this perceived disconnect, our course instructor, Dr Laurie Corna decided to adopt a problem-based learning approach that allowed us students to be positioned as emerging researchers whilst learning theoretically about a range of issues central to quantitative and qualitative research designs.

A new research methods course was designed around a series of case-based learning activities that culminated in students conducting their own mixed-methods research. Students’ assignments for the course involved working in teams of two on applying and executing various aspects of the research process in relation to the predefined topic “Physical activity in the city of London”.[1] That is, we learned how to articulate research questions, identify ethical problems, write a research proposal and develop related interview topic guides as well as survey questionnaires. Once we had conducted our research, we were tasked to present our findings in the form of a poster during a “Research Showcase” and create a final report on the research project.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

Sex and gender. New findings, new controversy

‘Patients who had undergone sex reassignment surgery at his hospital, stated that the problems presented by patients before the surgery had not been resolved, at either human relationship, work or emotional level.’

Introduction

Sex and gender. Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer, an epidemiologist specialising in Psychiatry, and Dr. Paul R. McHugh, said to be the most important American psychiatrist of the last half century, have recently published a study entitled “Sexuality and Gender” in the journal The New Atlantis (see HERE), which offers an exhaustive review of more than five hundred scientific articles related with this matter. “I was alarmed to learn that the LGBT community bears a disproportionate rate of mental health problems compared to the population as a whole”, says Dr. Mayer, one of the authors of the article. 1

Background

In November 2014, Dr. McHugh had already published a report on the website First Things2, in which he explained his decision as head of the Psychiatry Department at John Hopkins hospital in Baltimore, US, to no longer propose any sex reassignment surgery, in view of the negative findings that he obtained after a retrospective examination of patients who had undergone the procedure.

In the current article, the authors looked at studies published in recent years, in an attempt to establish statistically significant, well-proven evidence. Compared to other related studies, which often offer contradictory results on the topic, this one is distinguished by the large amount of data from many different sources, which gives it special credibility, as well as the backing of its indisputably eminent authors.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Bending the Odds: Pedagogy and Dialogue in Large Lecture Courses by Sandra Hyde

As academics in large public research universities, I am always amazed that when we speak of an ideal pedagogy, we speak about our small intimate seminars where we have the time and resources to experiment with 25 students or less. In my 13 years of teaching, I look forward to those settings when I get to teach one small undergraduate seminar a year. Over the years, I have also tried to make my large lecture hall shrink by trying to utilize different techniques to foster student based learning and most important, to create more interactive group problem solving and reduce the teacher as lord model of education. While this often works in small seminars, those wonderful nuggets of intimate interactive learning, I find it a challenge to accomplish this when I am in large lecture halls (over 200 students) with limited to graduate student teaching support.

In a large Introduction to Medical Anthropology course (what is called Anthropology 227 at McGill), I have worked over the years to integrate more student-interactive learning. I often compare teaching this course to managing a large ocean-liner with staff of different standing and students who are extremely eclectic as they are drawn from across campus from multiple faculties. For example, students in engineering and medicine will take the course as their one social science requirement and for others they find introduction to medical anthropology intriguing. Students in the humanities are also looking to take their one social science course. There are also medical practitioners and their allied health colleagues often nursing students returning to university to complete their BS.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

In the Journals – April 2017 by Danya Glabau

Critical Public Health

On difference and doubt as tools for critical engagement with public health

Catherine M. Will

This paper argues that critical public health should reengage with public health as practice by drawing on versions of Science and Technology Studies (STS) that ‘de-centre the human’ and by seeking alternative forms of critique to work inspired by Foucault. Based on close reading of work by Annemarie Mol, John Law, Vicky Singleton and others, I demonstrate that these authors pursue a conversation with Foucault but suggest new approaches to studying contemporary public health work in different settings. Proposing that we ‘doubt’ both the unity of public health and its effects, I argue that this version of STS opens up a space to recognise multiplicity; to avoid idealising what is being criticised; and to celebrate or care for public health practices as part of critique. Finally I oppose the view that considering technologies, materials and microbes leads to micro-level analysis or political neutrality, and suggest that it allows us to reframe studies of public health to account for inequalities and to draw attention to weak or retreating states, active markets and the entangled relations of humans and non-humans across the world.

 

Biopolitical precarity in the permeable body: the social lives of people, viruses and their medicines

Elizabeth Mills

This article is based on multi-sited ethnography that traced a dynamic network of actors (activists, policy-makers, health care systems, pharmaceutical companies) and actants (viruses and medicines) that shaped South African women’s access to, and embodiment of, antiretroviral therapies (ARVs).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Luhrmann and Marrow’s Our Most Troubling Madness by Murphy Halliburton

Our Most Troubling Madness: Case Studies in Schizophrenia Across Cultures

T.M. Luhrmann and Jocelyn Marrow, editors

University of California Press, 2016, 304 pages

 

A key premise of this volume of ethnographic case studies is that schizophrenia, or the various conditions we label as schizophrenia and related psychoses, varies in crucial ways in terms of experience, prognosis and outcome in different sociocultural contexts. Tanya Luhrmann’s introduction to the volume, which features twelve articles presenting twelve individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia (including three cases presented by Luhrmann), casts doubt on the biomedical model of schizophrenia, or at least the strong biomedical model where an individual’s biology is the determining factor in the pathogenesis of schizophrenia. Support for this critique comes from within the fields of psychiatry, psychology and related disciplines, and not just from anthropology, the disciplinary home base of many of the authors in this compilation. This supports the volume’s efforts to speak to an audience beyond the contributors’ own disciplines and “serve as a positive catalyst for change” in how we treat psychosis, especially in European and North American settings (5).

The introduction also briefly traces the history of theories of schizophrenia in psychiatry and anthropology, including moments when the two fields overlapped as with Gregory Bateson’s theory that schizophrenia results from a “double bind” that develops in a person’s psyche from conflicting social cues. This theory, put forth by an anthropologist, had a significant place in psychiatrists’ understanding of pathogenesis until the rise of the medical model deflected the blame from families toward “random bad genetic luck” (16).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Donald Trump’s Mental Health (again)

The speculation about Donald Trump’s mental health that was doing the rounds earlier in the year seems to have died down a bit.  That’s to be expected; like it or not, his Presidency is now part of normal life.  But I’ve been lagging in my blogging here, and so it’s only now that I’ve got a moment to mention in passing an op-ed article about Trump in the New Scientist that appeared just after I posted last on the topic.  (February.  I know, I know.)

It’s by Allen Frances, and it takes issue with what he calls “armchair diagnosis” of the president.  He’s right to say that there’s something disquieting about armchair diagnosis: “psychiatric diagnosis is already done far too casually and inaccurately in medical and mental health practice.  Armchair diagnosis further cheapens its currency.”  However, I do wonder whether we ought to pay some attention to whose armchair it is.  Often, it’s an armchair occupied by the genuinely ignorant, or the spiteful.  That’s the internet for you.  Accusing someone of being mentally ill or having a personality disorder on this account may be simply mistaken; or it may be intended as a jibe, the subtext of which is that there’s something shameful about having a mental health problem.  But not every armchair is the same: as Frances’ article admits, a letter with 35 signatories who work within the mental health field appeared in the New York Times.  That letter may be misguided, or ill-motivated.  But it is by people who, presumably, know a thing or two about the topic. 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Janis H. Jenkins’ “Extraordinary Conditions: Culture and Experience in Mental Illness” by Katie Barron

Extraordinary Conditions: Culture and Experience in Mental Illness

Janis H. Jenkins

University of California Press, 2015, 343 pages

It has been a privilege, through reading Extraordinary Conditions, to come into contact with a writer and practitioner of extraordinary compassion. The book bears witness to a process of open-ended interviewing that contributed to presenting the lives and experiences of Jenkins’ interlocutors with a deep concern for their dignity and self-esteem.

Part One of Extraordinary Conditions focuses on experiences of schizophrenia among different ethnic groups within the US, while Part Two focuses on trauma among Salvadoran refugees also living in the US. In all the interviews, Jenkins has been especially struck with the “centrality of struggle” which entail the wide variety of difficulties, including, losing jobs and relationships, weight gain as a result of medication, cognitive and logical incoherencies in experience, family criticism, and so forth. To describe the traditionally-named “patient” as an agent struggling to define and attain positive outcomes has political implications, implied in the text though not stated at length, viz. that the psychiatrist and the struggler are placed on an equal footing, as co-workers, along with helpers from other disciplines, working to accomplish negotiated goals.

The contention of the book is that psychiatry and anthropology have much to teach each other. For the anthropologist, studying mental illness within a given group sheds light on the whole group. The “extraordinary” illuminates the “ordinary”. In fact, Jenkins believes that those suffering diagnosed mental illness can be viewed not as different and separate from their community but as typical examples: “those with mental illness are just like everyone else – only more so.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.