Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Social psychiatry could stem the rising tide of mental illness

The Conversation is a Web site that bills itself as having “academic rigor, journalistic flair”. It is a great place to go for insightful thoughtful articles on a variety of current event topics.

A June 3 2020 article outlines the history of social psychiatry, ” a preventive approach to mental health that was highly influential in the US after the second world war. It focused on identifying the social factors believed to cause mental illness. These included poverty, inequality and social exclusion. It was also an interdisciplinary approach. Psychiatrists worked closely with social scientists, especially sociologists and anthropologists, to determine the relationship between society and mental illness.”

Historical neighborhoods highlight how poverty, inequality, and social isolation relate to mental illness. In one study “.. patients in the lower classes were more likely to receive invasive, somatic therapies. These included drugs, electroshock therapy and lobotomy. Patients from higher classes were more likely to receive psychoanalysis.”

Prevention was seen as imperative since at least the 1950’s. Indeed, even
President Kennedy was on board.

“In February 1963, Kennedy stressed the role of prevention in a speech to Congress. Americans “must seek out the causes of mental illness and of mental retardation and eradicate them”. In psychiatry, “an ounce of prevention was worth more than a pound of cure”.

By “causes” Kennedy meant “harsh environmental conditions”. But the primary solution he recommended did not address these conditions. Instead, he proposed creating a national network of community mental health centres (CMHCs) to replace the asylum system.”

However, from the late 60’s on social psychiatry was no longer in favor.
Instead there was more reliance on treatment, specifically prescription drugs.

The author ends on a hopeful not. “During the past few years, however, concerns about rising rates of mental illness have put prevention back on the agenda. Although social factors – especially in light of COVID-19 – have been mentioned, there is not enough discussion of policy changes that could make a difference. This was also a problem during the heyday of social psychiatry.”

The author ends with a few radical prevention imperatives. “My research on social psychiatry has convinced me that introducing universal basic income could improve mental health. But other progressive policies, ranging from reducing the working week to ensuring we all have ample time to commune with nature, could also make a difference.”



June 5, 2020 - Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychiatry, Public Health | , , ,

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