Mental health and brains, etc. (200 words)

We each differ in terms of how much stress or trauma we can endure before we fall to pieces. If you are fortunate enough to have close friends you trust or you are wealthy, then you can endure more. Even though individuals cope to varying degrees, it does not follow that research should focus on individual characteristics. Too many studies investigate genes, brain chemicals, and personality traits and too few examine social stressors and support. Although twin studies model how much variance is “explained” by the environment, they typically do not uncover exactly what it is in the environment that matters. The very word “environment” obscures what is going on; your family are in there as well as how close you are to a park. There could be more brain imaging studies investigating the neural correlates of, say, solidarity, or receiving adequate welfare support, rather than obsessing over mindfulness training and psychoactive pills. However, it is unclear how brain studies would help improve people’s lives. Allowing that brains and genes play an important role in distress does not imply an individualistic approach. Nor does it imply that psychiatry – or indeed professional psychology – supply the most effective ways to help people.

(Thanks to the wonderful user-led group for mental health survivors and supporters, Recovery in the Bin, for inspiring this post.)

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