What is Cyclothymia?

Introduction

Cyclothymia, also known as cyclothymic disorder, is a mental and behavioural disorder that involves numerous periods of symptoms of depression and periods of symptoms of elevated mood.

These symptoms, however, are not sufficient to be a major depressive episode or a hypomanic episode. Symptoms must last for more than one year in children and two years in adults.

The cause of cyclothymia is unknown. Risk factors include a family history of bipolar disorder. Cyclothymia differs from bipolar in that major depression, mania, or hypomania have never occurred.

Treatment is generally with counselling and mood stabilisers such as lithium. It is estimated that 0.4-1% of people have cyclothymia at some point in their life. Onset is typically in late childhood to early adulthood. Males and females are affected equally often.

Brief History

In 1883, Karl Ludwig Kahlbaum identified a disorder characterised by recurring mood cycles. The disorder contained both melancholic and manic episodes that occurred in a milder form than in bipolar disorder. This condition was coined “cyclothymia” by Kahlbaum and his student Ewald Hecker. Kahlbaum developed his theory of cyclothymia through his work with people presenting with these symptoms at the Kahlbaum Sanitarium in Goerlitz, Silesia (Germany). He was recognised as a leading hypnotherapist and psychotherapist of his day. He was a progressive in the field of mental health, believing that mental illness should not carry a stigma and that people dealing with mental health issues should be treated humanely. Kalhbaum was the first to recognise that people with cyclothymia often do not seek help for the disorder due to its mild symptoms.

Cyclothymia has been conceptualised in a variety of ways, including as a subtype of bipolar disorder, a temperament, a personality trait, and a personality disorder. There is also an argument that cyclothymia should be considered a neurodevelopmental disorder. The two defining features of the disorder, according to DSM-5, are the presence of depressive and hypomanic symptoms, not meeting the threshold for a depressive or hypomanic episode. Cyclothymia is also classified as a subtype of bipolar disorder in DSM-5, but some researchers disagree with this classification and argue that it should be primarily defined as an exaggeration of mood and emotional instability. In the past, cyclothymia has been conceptualised to include other characteristics in addition to the flux between depression and hypomania, such as mood reactivity, impulsivity, and anxiety.

Symptoms

People with cyclothymia experience both depressive phases and hypomanic phases (which are less severe than a full hypomanic episode). The depressive and manic symptoms in cyclothymia last for variable amounts of time due to the unstable and reactive nature of the disorder. The depressive phases are similar to major depressive disorder and are characterised by dulled thoughts and sensations and the lack of motivation for intellectual or social activities. Most people with cyclothymia are generally fatigued and tend to sleep frequently and for long periods of time. However, other people experience insomnia.

Other symptoms of cyclothymic depression include indifference toward people or activities that used to be extremely important. Cyclothymic depression also leads to difficulty making decisions. In addition, people with this condition tend to be critical and complain easily. Suicidal thoughts are common, even in mild forms of cyclothymia. In the depressive state, people with cyclothymia also experience physical complaints including frequent headaches, tightness in the head and chest, an empty sensation in the head, weakness, weight loss, and hair loss.

The distinguishing factor between typical depression and cyclothymic depression is that in cyclothymic depression, there are instances of hypomania. People with cyclothymia can switch from the depressive state to the hypomanic state without warning to them or others. The duration and frequency of phases is unpredictable.

In the hypomanic state, people’s thoughts become faster and they become more sociable and talkative. They may engage in spending sprees, spontaneous actions, have heightened self-esteem, and greater vanity. In contrast to a regular manic state that would be associated with bipolar I, symptoms in the hypomanic phase generally occur in a less severe form.

Comorbidities

Cyclothymia commonly occurs in conjunction with other disorders. Between 20-50 percent of people with depression, anxiety, and related disorders also have cyclothymia. When people with cyclothymia seek mental health resources it tends to be for symptoms of their comorbid condition rather than for their symptoms of cyclothymia. In children and adolescents, the most common comorbidities with cyclothymia are anxiety disorders, impulse control issues, eating disorders, and ADHD. In adults, cyclothymia also tends to be comorbid with impulse control issues. Sensation-seeking behaviours occur in hypomanic states. These often include gambling and compulsive sexuality in men, or compulsive buying and binge eating in women.

In addition to sensation-related disorders, cyclothymia has also been associated with atypical depression. In one study, a connection was found between interpersonal sensitivity, mood reactivity (i.e. responding to actual or potential positive events with brighter mood), and cyclothymic mood swings, all of which are symptoms of atypical depression. Cyclothymia also tends to occur in conjunction with separation anxiety, where a person has anxiety as a result of separation from a caregiver, friend, or loved one. Other issues that tend to co-occur with cyclothymia include social anxiety, fear of rejection and a tendency toward hostility to those connected with past pain and rejection. People with cyclothymia tend to seek intense interpersonal relationships when in a hypomanic state and isolation when in a depressed state. This generally leads to short, tumultuous relationships.

Causes

The cause is unknown. Risk factors include a family history of bipolar disorder.

First-degree relatives of people with cyclothymia have major depressive disorder, bipolar I disorder, and bipolar II disorder more often than the general population. Substance-related disorders also may be at a higher risk within the family. First-degree relatives of a bipolar I individuals may have a higher risk of cyclothymic disorder than the general population.

Diagnosis

Cyclothymia is classified in DSM-5 as a subtype of bipolar disorder. The criteria are:

  • Periods of elevated mood and depressive symptoms for at least half the time during the last two years for adults and one year for children and teenagers.
  • Periods of stable moods last only two months at most.
  • Symptoms create significant problems in one or more areas of life.
  • Symptoms do not meet the criteria for bipolar disorder, major depression, or another mental disorder.
  • Symptoms are not caused by substance use or a medical condition.

The DSM-5 criteria for cyclothymia are restrictive according to some researchers. This affects the diagnosis of cyclothymia because fewer people get diagnosed than potentially could. This means that a person who has some symptoms of the disorder might not be able to get treatment because they do not meet all of the necessary criteria described in DSM-5. Furthermore, it also leads to more attention being placed on depression and other bipolar-spectrum disorders because if a person does not meet all the criteria for cyclothymia they are often given a depression or bipolar spectrum diagnosis. Improper diagnosis may lead some people with cyclothymia to be treated for a comorbid disorder rather than having their cyclothymic tendencies addressed.

Cyclothymia is often not recognised by the affected individual or medical professionals due to its ostensibly mild symptoms. In addition, it is difficult to identify and classify. Due to disagreement and misconceptions among health and mental health professionals, cyclothymia is often diagnosed as “bipolar not otherwise specified”. Cyclothymia is also often confused with borderline personality disorder due to their similar symptoms, especially in older adolescents and young adults.

Most people with the disorder present in a depressive state, not realising that their hypomanic states are abnormal. Mild manic episodes tend to be interpreted as part of the person’s personality or simply a heightened mood. In addition, the disorder often manifests during childhood or adolescence, making it even more difficult for the person to distinguish between symptoms of the disorder and their personality. For example, people may think that they just suffer from mood swings and not realise that these are a result of a psychiatric condition.

Management

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is considered potentially effective for people diagnosed with cyclothymia.

Medication can be used in addition to behavioural approaches. However, mood stabilisers should be used before antidepressants, and if antidepressants are used they should be used with caution. Antidepressants are a concern due to the possibility of inducing hypomanic switches or rapid cycling.

Epidemiology

Cyclothymia, known today as cyclothymic disorder, tends to be underdiagnosed due to its low intensity. The exact rates for cyclothymia have not been widely studied. Some studies estimate that between 5 and 8% are affected at some point in their life whereas other studies suggest a rate ranging from 0.4 to 2.5%.

Males appear to be affected equally often, though women are more likely to receive treatment. Cyclothymia is diagnosed in around fifty percent of people with depression who are evaluated in psychiatric outpatient settings.

Etymology

Cyclothymia is derived from the Greek word κυκλοθυμία (from κῦκλος kyklos, “circle” and θυμός thymos, “mood, emotion”). Therefore, it means “to cycle or circle between moods or emotions”.

Research

Whether subtypes of bipolar disorder, such as cyclothymia, truly represent separate disorders or are part of a unique bipolar spectrum is debated in research. Cyclothymia is typically not described in research studies or diagnosed in clinical settings, making it less recognisable and less understood by professionals. This absence of cyclothymia in research and clinical settings suggests that cyclothymia is either being diagnosed as another mood disorder or as a non-affective psychiatric disorder or not coming to scientific or clinical attention due to a lack of diagnostic clarity or because the nature of cyclothymia is still highly contested. Additionally, the current diagnostic criterion for cyclothymia emphasizes that symptoms are persistent, which suggests that they are enduring traits rather than a psychological state, thus, it has been argued that it should be diagnosed as a personality disorder. Since the symptoms tend to overlap with personality disorders, the validity and distinction between these two diagnostic categories has been debated.

Lastly, the tendency of cyclothymia to be comorbid with other mental disorders makes diagnosis difficult. These issues prevent consensus on the definition of cyclothymia and its relationship with other mental disorders among researchers and clinicians. This lack of consensus on an operational definition and symptom presentation is especially pronounced with children and adolescents because the diagnostic criteria have not been adequately adapted to take into account their developmental level.

Society and Culture

Actor Stephen Fry has spoken about his experience with cyclothymia, which was depicted in the documentary Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive.

Singer Charlene Soraia had cyclothymia and wrote a song about her experiences with the disorder.

What is the Diagnostic Classification of Mental Health and Developmental Disorder of Infancy and Early Childhood?

Introduction

The Diagnostic Classification of Mental Health and Developmental Disorders of Infancy and Early Childhood (DC) is a developmentally based diagnostic manual that provides clinical criteria for categorising mental health and developmental disorders in infants and toddlers.

It is organised into a five-part axis system. The book has been translated into several languages and its model is widely adopted for the assessment of children of up to five years in age.

The DC 0-3R is meant to complement, but not replace, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10) of the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is intended to enhance the understanding of young children by making it possible to assess, diagnose, and treat mental health problems in infants and toddlers by allowing for the identification of disorders not addressed in other classification systems.

The DC is organised around three primary principles:

  1. That children’s psychological functioning unfolds in the context of relationships;
  2. That individual differences in temperament and constitutional strengths and vulnerabilities play a major role in how children experience and process events; and
  3. That the family’s cultural context is important for the understanding of the child’s developmental course.

Brief History

Originally published in 1994, ZERO TO THREE’s Diagnostic Classification of Mental Health and Developmental Disorders of Infancy and Early Childhood (DC:03) was the first developmentally based system for diagnosing mental health and developmental disorders of infants and toddlers (i.e. 0 to 3).

The revised DC:03, published in 2005 (DC:03R) drew on empirical research and clinical practice that had occurred worldwide since the 1994 publication and extended the depth and criteria of the original DC:03.

DC:05 captures new findings relevant to diagnosis in young children and addresses unresolved issues in the field since DC:03R was published in 2005.

DC:05 is designed to help mental health and other professionals: recognize mental health and developmental challenges in infants and young children, through 5 years old; understand that relationships and psychosocial stressors contribute to mental health and developmental disorders and incorporate contextual factors into the diagnostic process; use diagnostic criteria effectively for classification, case formulation, and intervention; and facilitate research on mental health disorders in infants and young children. DC:05 enhances the professional’s ability to prevent, diagnose, and treat mental health problems in the earliest years by identifying and describing disorders not addressed in other classification systems and by pointing the way to effective intervention approaches. Individuals across disciplines, mental health clinicians, counsellors, physicians, nurses, early interventionists, social workers, and researchers will find DC:05 to be an essential guide to evaluation and treatment planning with infants, young children, and their families in a wide range of settings.

The Diagnostic Process

The diagnostic process is one that is ongoing and done over a period of time. The process includes gathering a series of information regarding the child’s behaviour and presenting problems. The information is collected by a clinician and pertains to the child’s adaptation and development across different occasions and contexts.

According to the DC, the diagnostic process consists of two aspects:

  1. The classification of disorders; and
  2. The assessment of individuals.

One of the primary reasons for the classification of disorders is to facilitate communication between professionals. Once a diagnosis has been made, a clinician can then make associations between their clients’ symptoms and previously existing knowledge regarding the disorders’ aetiology, pathogenesis, treatment, and prognosis. Furthermore, using the classification of disorders can facilitate the process of finding existing services and mental health systems that are appropriate for the particular needs of the affected child. The assessment of children thus becomes a pivotal process that is undertaken by clinicians in order to grant access to treatment and intervention services related to specified disorders.

Clinical assessment and diagnosis involves making observations and gathering information from multiple sources relating to the child’s life in conjunction with a general diagnostic scheme. Both the DSM and ICD classification systems have evolved to use a multiaxial scheme, thus, clinicians have been using them not only for the classification of disorder but also as a guide for assessment and diagnosis. The first three axes of the DSM and ICD relate to the classification of disorder, and the fourth and fifth relate to the assessment of the individual within their personal environment. Similarly, the DC also follows a multiaxial scheme.

Classification

The DC 0-3R provides a provisional diagnosis system, focusing on multi-axial classification. The system is a provisional system because it recognises the fluidity and change that may occur with more knowledge in the field. This classification system is not entirely synonymous with the DSM-IV and the ICD-10, because it concentrates on developmental issues. There is also an emphasis placed on dynamic processes, relationships, and adaptive patterns within a developmental framework. The use of this classification system imparts knowledge about the diagnostic profile of a child, and the various contextual factors that may contribute to difficulties.

The DC functions as a reference for the earlier manifestations of problems in infants and children, which can be connected to later problems in functioning. Secondly, the categorisation focuses on types of difficulties in young children that are not addressed in other classification models.

The diagnostic categories vary in description, with more familiar categories described less. Categories that are more specific to young childhood and infancy, and newly based on clinical approaches are described in more detail. Furthermore, some categories may have subtypes to promote research, clinical awareness, and intervention planning, whereas others do not. This is important information to keep in mind when reading the DC.

The Multi-Axial System

Axis I: Clinical Disorders

Axis 1 of the DC provides diagnostic classifications for the most primary symptoms of the presenting difficulties. These diagnoses focus on the infant or child’s functioning. The primary diagnoses include:

  1. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder:
    • This refers to children who may be experiencing or have experienced a single traumatic event (e.g. an earthquake), a series of traumatic events (e.g. air raids), or chronic stress (e.g. abuse).
    • Furthermore, the nature of the trauma and its effect on the child must be understood in the context of the child. Specifically, attention must be paid to factors such as social context, personality factors, and the caregivers’ ability to assist with coping.
  2. Disorders of Affect:
    • This classification of disorders is related to the infant or child’s affective and behavioural experiences.
    • This group of disorders includes mood disorders and deprivation/maltreatment disorder.
    • This classification focuses on the infant or child’s functioning in its entirety rather than a specific event or situation (refer to Affective spectrum).
  3. Adjustment Disorder:
    • When considering a diagnosis of adjustment disorder, one has to examine the situational factors to determine if it is a mild disruption in the child’s usual functioning (e.g. switching schools).
    • These difficulties must also not meet the criteria for other disorders included in the categories.
  4. Regulation Disorders of Sensory Processing:
    1. The child manifests difficulties in regulating behavioural, motor, attention, physiological, sensory, and affective processes.
    2. These difficulties can affect the child’s daily functioning and relationships (refer to Sensory processing disorder).
  5. Sleep Behaviour Disorder:
    • To diagnose a sleep disorder, the child should be showing a sleep disturbance and not be demonstrating sensory reactive or processing difficulties.
    • This diagnosis should not be used when sleep problems are related to issues of anxiety or traumatic events.
  6. Eating Behaviour Disorder:
    • This diagnosis may become evident in infancy and young childhood as the child may show difficulties in regular eating patterns.
    • The child may not be regulating feeding with physiological reactions of hunger. This diagnosis is a primary diagnosis in the absence of traumatic, affective, and regulatory difficulties (refer to eating disorder).
  7. Disorders of Relating and Communicating:
    • These disorders involve difficulties in communication, in conjunction with difficulties in regulation of physiological, motor, cognitive, and many other processes.

Axis II: Relationship Classification

Axis II focuses on children and infants developing in the context of emotional relationships. Specifically, the quality of caregiving can have a strong impact in nurturance and steering a child on a particular developmental course, either adaptive or maladaptive. This particular axis concentrates on the diagnosis of a clinical issue in the relationship between the child and the caregiver. The presence of a disorder indicates difficulties in relationships. These disorders include various patterns that highlight behaviour, affective, and psychological factors between the child and the caregiver.

  • Overinvolved.
  • Underinvolved.
  • Anxious/Tense.
  • Angry/Hostile.
  • Mixed Relationship Disorder.
  • Abusive.

Axis III: Medical and Developmental Disorders and Conditions

Axis III focuses on physical, mental, or developmental classification using other diagnosis methods. These disorders and conditions are not treated as a single diagnosis, but as a problem that may co-exist with others, as it may involve developmental difficulties.

Axis IV: Psychosocial Stressors

This axis allows clinicians to focus on the intensity of psychosocial stress, which may act as influencing agents in infant and childhood difficulties/disorders. Psychosocial stress can have direct and indirect influences on infants and children, and depends on various factors.

Axis V: Emotional and Social Functioning

Emotional and social functioning capacities can be assessed using observations of the child with primary caregivers. The essential domains of functioning can be used in these observations on a 5-point scale, that describes overall functional emotional level.

Rating Scales and Checklists

The DC contains four forms that aid clinicians in identifying disorders in infants and toddlers, in examining the extent of problem behaviours, and in determining the nature of external factors influencing the child.

  • Functional Rating Scale for Emotional and Social Functioning Capacities: to evaluate the child’s communication skills and expressions of thoughts and feelings.
  • The Parent-Infant Relationship Global Assessment Scale (PIR-GAS; from Axis II): to evaluate the quality of a caregiver-child relationship and identify relationship disorders.
  • Relationship Problems Checklist (RPCL; from Axis II): allows the clinician to identify the extent to which a caregiver-child relationship can be described by a number of criterion-based qualities.
  • Psychosocial and Environmental Stressors Checklist (from Axis IV): to provide information on the stressors experienced by the child in various contexts.

The Future of DC

Important questions remain to be answered, in spite of the revisions made in the DC. Such questions include the following:

  • How can the functional adaptation of infants and children be evaluated and described independent of diagnosis?
  • How can disruptive behaviours of typical development in infants and children be distinguished from disordered behaviours that lead to atypical development?
  • Should Excessive Crying Disorder be considered as a functional regulatory disorder? Other functional regulatory disorders include Sleeping Behaviour and Feeding Behaviour Disorders.
  • Should future editions of the DC include a Family Axis containing information about family history of mental illness, family structure and available supports, and family culture? These aspects are all central to assessment and treatment planning.

What is Labelling Theory?

Introduction

Labelling theory posits that self-identity and the behaviour of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them.

It is associated with the concepts of self-fulfilling prophecy and stereotyping. Labelling theory holds that deviance is not inherent in an act, but instead focuses on the tendency of majorities to negatively label minorities or those seen as deviant from standard cultural norms. The theory was prominent during the 1960s and 1970s, and some modified versions of the theory have developed and are still currently popular. Stigma is defined as a powerfully negative label that changes a person’s self-concept and social identity.

Labelling theory is closely related to social-construction and symbolic-interaction analysis. Labelling theory was developed by sociologists during the 1960s. Howard Saul Becker’s book Outsiders was extremely influential in the development of this theory and its rise to popularity.

Labelling theory is also connected to other fields besides crime. For instance there is the labelling theory that corresponds to homosexuality. Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues were the main advocates in separating the difference between the role of a “homosexual” and the acts one does. An example is the idea that males performing feminine acts would imply that they are homosexual. Thomas J. Scheff states that labelling also plays a part with the “mentally ill”. The label does not refer to criminal but rather acts that are not socially accepted due to mental disorders.

Theoretical Foundations

Labelling theory attributes its origins to French sociologist Émile Durkheim and his 1897 book, Suicide. Durkheim found that crime is not so much a violation of a penal code as it is an act that outrages society. He was the first to suggest that deviant labelling satisfies that function and satisfies society’s need to control the behaviour.

As a contributor to American Pragmatism and later a member of the Chicago School, George Herbert Mead posited that the self is socially constructed and reconstructed through the interactions which each person has with the community. The labelling theory suggests that people obtain labels from how others view their tendencies or behaviours. Each individual is aware of how they are judged by others because he or she has attempted many different roles and functions in social interactions and has been able to gauge the reactions of those present.

This theoretically builds a subjective conception of the self, but as others intrude into the reality of that individual’s life, this represents “objective” (intersubjective) data which may require a re-evaluation of that conception depending on the authoritativeness of the others’ judgment. Family and friends may judge differently from random strangers. More socially representative individuals such as police officers or judges may be able to make more globally respected judgments. If deviance is a failure to conform to the rules observed by most of the group, the reaction of the group is to label the person as having offended against their social or moral norms of behaviour. This is the power of the group: to designate breaches of their rules as deviant and to treat the person differently depending on the seriousness of the breach. The more differential the treatment, the more the individual’s self-image is affected.

Labelling theory concerns itself mostly not with the normal roles that define our lives, but with those very special roles that society provides for deviant behaviour, called deviant roles, stigmatic roles, or social stigma. A social role is a set of expectations we have about a behaviour. Social roles are necessary for the organization and functioning of any society or group. We expect the postman, for example, to adhere to certain fixed rules about how he does his job. “Deviance” for a sociologist does not mean morally wrong, but rather behaviour that is condemned by society. Deviant behaviour can include both criminal and non-criminal activities.

Investigators found that deviant roles powerfully affect how we perceive those who are assigned those roles. They also affect how the deviant actor perceives himself and his relationship to society. The deviant roles and the labels attached to them function as a form of social stigma. Always inherent in the deviant role is the attribution of some form of “pollution” or difference that marks the labelled person as different from others. Society uses these stigmatic roles to them to control and limit deviant behaviour: “If you proceed in this behavior, you will become a member of that group of people.”

Whether a breach of a given rule will be stigmatised will depend on the significance of the moral or other tenet it represents. For example, adultery may be considered a breach of an informal rule or it may be criminalised depending on the status of marriage, morality, and religion within the community. In most Western countries, adultery is not a crime. Attaching the label “adulterer” may have some unfortunate consequences but they are not generally severe. But in some Islamic countries, zina is a crime and proof of extramarital activity may lead to severe consequences for all concerned.

Stigma is usually the result of laws enacted against the behaviour. Laws protecting slavery or outlawing homosexuality, for instance, will over time form deviant roles connected with those behaviours. Those who are assigned those roles will be seen as less human and reliable. Deviant roles are the sources of negative stereotypes, which tend to support society’s disapproval of the behaviour.

George Herbert Mead

One of the founders of social interactionism, George Herbert Mead, focused on the internal processes of how the mind constructs one’s self-image. In Mind, Self, and Society (1934), he showed how infants come to know persons first and only later come to know things. According to Mead, thought is both a social and pragmatic process, based on the model of two persons discussing how to solve a problem. Mead’s central concept is the self, the part of an individual’s personality composed of self-awareness and self-image. Our self-image is, in fact, constructed of ideas about what we think others are thinking about us. While we make fun of those who visibly talk to themselves, they have only failed to do what the rest of us do in keeping the internal conversation to ourselves. Human behaviour, Mead stated, is the result of meanings created by the social interaction of conversation, both real and imaginary.

Thomas Scheff

Thomas J. Scheff (1966), professor emeritus of Sociology at UCSB, published the book Being Mentally III: A Sociological Theory. According to Scheff, society has perceptions about people with mental illness. He stated that everyone in the society learns the stereotyped imagery of mental disorder through ordinary social interaction. From childhood, people learn to use terms like “crazy,” “loony,” “nuts,” and associated them with disturbed behaviours. The media also contributes to this bias against mentally ill patients by associating them with violent crimes. Scheff believes that mental illness is a label given to a person who has a behaviour which is away from the social norms of the society and is treated as a social deviance in the society. Once a person is given a label of “mentally ill person”, they receive a set of uniform responses from the society, which are generally negative in nature. These responses from the society compel to the person to take the role of a “mentally ill person” as they start internalising the same. When the individual takes on the role of being mentally ill as their central identity, they become a stable mental ill person. Chronic mental illness is thus a social role and the societal reaction is the most determinant of one’s entry into this role of chronically ill. According to Scheff hospitalisation of a mentally ill person further reinforces this social role and forces them to take this role as their self-perception. Once the person is institutionalised for mental disorder, they have been publicly labelled as “crazy” and forced to become a member of a deviant social group. It then becomes difficult for a deviant person to return to their former level of functioning as the status of ‘patient’ causes unfavourable evaluations by self and by others.

Frank Tannenbaum

Frank Tannenbaum is considered the grandfather of labelling theory. His Crime and Community (1938), describing the social interaction involved in crime, is considered a pivotal foundation of modern criminology. While the criminal differs little or not at all from others in the original impulse to first commit a crime, social interaction accounts for continued acts that develop a pattern of interest to sociologists.

Tannenbaum first introduced the idea of “tagging.” While conducting his studies with delinquent youth, he found that a negative tag or label often contributed to further involvement in delinquent activities. This initial tagging may cause the individual to adopt it as part of their identity. The crux of Tannenbaum’s argument is that the greater the attention placed on this label, the more likely the person is to identify themselves as the label.

Kerry Townsend (2001) writes about the revolution in criminology caused by Tannenbaum’s work:

“The roots of Frank Tannenbaum’s theoretical model, known as the ‘dramatization of evil’ or labeling theory, surfaces in the mid- to late-thirties. At this time, the ‘New Deal’ legislation had not defeated the woes of the Great Depression, and, although dwindling, immigration into the United States continued.[7] The social climate was one of disillusionment with the government. The class structure was one of cultural isolationism; cultural relativity had not yet taken hold. ‘The persistence of the class structure, despite the welfare reforms and controls over big business, was unmistakable.'[7]:117 The Positivist School of Criminological thought was still dominant, and in many states, the sterilization movement was underway. The emphasis on biological determinism and internal explanations of crime were the preeminent force in the theories of the early thirties. This dominance by the Positivist School changed in the late thirties with the introduction of conflict and social explanations of crime and criminality.” “One of the central tenets of the theory is to encourage the end of labeling process. In the words of Frank Tannenbaum, ‘the way out is through a refusal to dramatize the evil”, the justice system attempts to do this through diversion programs. The growth of the theory and its current application, both practical and theoretical, provide a solid foundation for continued popularity.”

Edwin Lemert

Sociologist Edwin Lemert (1951) introduced the concept of “secondary deviance.” The primary deviance is the experience connected to the overt behaviour, say drug addiction and its practical demands and consequences. Secondary deviation is the role created to deal with society’s condemnation of the behaviour of a person.

With other sociologists of his time, Lemert saw how all deviant acts are social acts, a result of the cooperation of society. In studying drug addiction, Lemert observed a very powerful and subtle force at work. Besides the physical addiction to the drug and all the economic and social disruptions it caused, there was an intensely intellectual process at work concerning one’s own identity and the justification for the behaviour: “I do these things because I am this way.”

There might be certain subjective and personal motives that might first lead a person to drink or shoplift. But the activity itself tells us little about the person’s self-image or its relationship to the activity. Lemert writes: “His acts are repeated and organised subjectively and transformed into active roles and become the social criteria for assigning status.…When a person begins to employ his deviant behaviour or a role based on it as a means of defence, attack, or adjustment to the overt and covert problems created by the consequent societal reaction to him, his deviation is secondary.”

Howard Becker

While it was Lemert who introduced the key concepts of labelling theory, it was Howard Becker who became their successor. He first began describing the process of how a person adopts a deviant role in a study of dance musicians, with whom he once worked. He later studied the identity formation of marijuana smokers. This study was the basis of his Outsiders published in 1963. This work became the manifesto of the labelling theory movement among sociologists. In his opening, Becker writes:

“…social groups create deviance by making rules whose infraction creates deviance, and by applying those rules to particular people and labeling them as outsiders. From this point of view, deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by other of rules and sanctions to an ‘offender.’ The deviant is one to whom that label has been successfully applied; deviant behavior is behavior that people so label.”

While society uses the stigmatic label to justify its condemnation, the deviant actor uses it to justify his actions. He wrote: “To put a complex argument in a few words: instead of the deviant motives leading to the deviant behavior, it is the other way around, the deviant behavior in time produces the deviant motivation.”

Becker’s immensely popular views were also subjected to a barrage of criticism, most of it blaming him for neglecting the influence of other biological, genetic effects and personal responsibility. In a later 1973 edition of his work, he answered his critics. He wrote that sociologists, while dedicated to studying society, are often careful not to look too closely. Instead, he wrote: “I prefer to think of what we study as collective action. People act, as Mead and Blumer have made clearest, together. They do what they do with an eye on what others have done, are doing now, and may do in the future. One tries to fit his own line of action into the actions of others, just as each of them likewise adjusts his own developing actions to what he sees and expects others to do.”

Francis Cullen reported in 1984 that Becker was probably too generous with his critics. After 20 years, Becker’s views, far from being supplanted, have been corrected and absorbed into an expanded “structuring perspective.”

Albert Memmi

In The Colonizer and the Colonized (1965), Albert Memmi described the deep psychological effects of the social stigma created by the domination of one group by another. He wrote:

The longer the oppression lasts, the more profoundly it affects him (the oppressed). It ends by becoming so familiar to him that he believes it is part of his own constitution, that he accepts it and could not imagine his recovery from it. This acceptance is the crowning point of oppression.

In Dominated Man (1968), Memmi turned his attention to the motivation of stigmatic labelling: it justifies the exploitation or criminalisation of the victim. He wrote:

Why does the accuser feel obliged to accuse in order to justify himself? Because he feels guilty toward his victim. Because he feels that his attitude and his behavior are essentially unjust and fraudulent.… Proof? In almost every case, the punishment has already been inflicted. The victim of racism is already living under the weight of disgrace and oppression.… In order to justify such punishment and misfortune, a process of rationalization is set in motion, by which to explain the ghetto and colonial exploitation.

Central to stigmatic labelling is the attribution of an inherent fault: It is as if one says, “There must be something wrong with these people. Otherwise, why would we treat them so badly?”

Erving Goffman

Perhaps the most important contributor to labelling theory was Erving Goffman, President of the American Sociological Association (ASA), and one of America’s most cited sociologists. His most popular books include The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Interaction Ritual, and Frame Analysis.

His most important contribution to labelling theory, however, was Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity published in 1963. Unlike other authors who examined the process of adopting a deviant identity, Goffman explored the ways people managed that identity and controlled information about it.

Goffman’s Key Insights

The modern nation state’s heightened demand for normalcy. Today’s stigmas are the result not so much of ancient or religious prohibitions, but of a new demand for normalcy:

“The notion of the ‘normal human being’ may have its source in the medical approach to humanity, or in the tendency of large-scale bureaucratic organizations such as the nation state, to treat all members in some respects as equal. Whatever its origins, it seems to provide the basic imagery through which laymen currently conceive themselves.”

Living in a divided world, deviants split their worlds into:

  1. Forbidden places where discovery means exposure and danger;
  2. Places where people of that kind are painfully tolerated; and
  3. Places where one’s kind is exposed without need to dissimulate or conceal.

Dealing with others is fraught with great complexity and ambiguity:

“When normals and stigmatized do in fact enter one another’s immediate presence, especially when they attempt to maintain a joint conversational encounter, there occurs one of the primal scenes of sociology; for, in many cases, these moments will be the ones when the causes and effects of stigma will be directly confronted by both sides.” “What are unthinking routines for normals can become management problems for the discreditable.… The person with a secret failing, then, must be alive to the social situation as a scanner of possibilities, and is therefore likely to be alienated from the simpler world in which those around them apparently dwell.”

Society’s demands are filled with contradictions:

On the one hand, a stigmatized person may be told that he is no different from others. On the other hand, he must declare his status as “a resident alien who stands for his group.” It requires that the stigmatized individual cheerfully and unselfconsciously accept himself as essentially the same as normals, while at the same time he voluntarily withholds himself from those situations in which normals would find it difficult to give lip service to their similar acceptance of him. “One has to convey the impression that the burden of the stigma is not too heavy yet keep himself at the required distance. “A phantom acceptance is allowed to provide the base for a phantom normalcy.”

Familiarity need not reduce contempt. In spite of the common belief that openness and exposure will decrease stereotypes and repression, the opposite is true:

“Thus, whether we interact with strangers or intimates, we will still find that the fingertips of society have reached bluntly into the contact, even here putting us in our place.”

David Matza

In On Becoming Deviant (1969), sociologist David Matza gives the most vivid and graphic account of the process of adopting a deviant role. The acts of authorities in outlawing a proscribed behaviour can have two effects, keeping most out of the behaviour, but also offering new opportunities for creating deviant identities. He says the concept of “affinity” does little to explain the dedication to the behaviour. “Instead, it may be regarded as a natural biographical tendency born of personal and social circumstances that suggests but hardly compels a direction or movement.”

What gives force to that movement is the development of a new identity:

“To be cast as a thief, as a prostitute, or more generally, a deviant, is to further compound and hasten the process of becoming that very thing.”

“In shocked discovery, the subject now concretely understands that there are serious people who really go around building their lives around his activities—stopping him, correcting him, devoted to him. They keep records on the course of his life, even develop theories on how he got that way…. Pressed by such a display, the subject may begin to add meaning and gravity to his deviant activities. But he may do so in a way not especially intended by agents of the state.”

“The meaningful issue of identity is whether this activity, or any of my activities can stand for me, or be regarded as proper indications of my being. I have done a theft, been signified a thief. am I a thief? To answer affirmatively, we must be able to conceive a special relationship between being and doing—a unity capable of being indicated. That building of meaning has a notable quality.”

The “Criminal”

As an application of phenomenology, the theory hypothesizes that the labels applied to individuals influence their behaviour, particularly the application of negative or stigmatising labels (such as “criminal” or “felon”) promote deviant behaviour, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, i.e. an individual who is labelled has little choice but to conform to the essential meaning of that judgment. Consequently, labelling theory postulates that it is possible to prevent social deviance via a limited social shaming reaction in “labellers” and replacing moral indignation with tolerance. Emphasis is placed on the rehabilitation of offenders through an alteration of their labels. Related prevention policies include client empowerment schemes, mediation and conciliation, victim-offender forgiveness ceremonies (restorative justice), restitution, reparation, and alternatives to prison programmes involving diversion. Labelling theory has been accused of promoting impractical policy implications, and criticised for failing to explain society’s most serious offenses.

Some offenses, including the use of violence, are universally recognised as wrong. Hence, labelling either habitual criminals or those who have caused serious harm as “criminals” is not constructive. Society may use more specific labels such as “murderer” or “rapist” or “child abuser” to demonstrate more clearly after the event the extent of its disapproval, but there is a slightly mechanical determinism in asserting that the application of a label will invariably modify the behaviour of the one labelled. Further, if one of the functions of the penal system is to reduce recidivism, applying a long-term label may cause prejudice against the offender, resulting in the inability to maintain employment and social relationships.

The “Mentally Ill”

The social construction of deviant behaviour plays an important role in the labelling process that occurs in society. This process involves not only the labelling of criminally deviant behaviour, which is behaviour that does not fit socially constructed norms, but also labelling that which reflects stereotyped or stigmatised behaviour of the “mentally ill”. In 1961 Thomas Szasz, in The Myth of Mental Illness, asked, “Who defines whom as troublesome or mentally sick?… [the one] who first seizes the word imposes reality on the other; [the one] who defines thus dominates and lives; and [the one] who is defined is subjugated and may be killed.” Thomas J. Scheff in Being Mentally Ill challenged common perceptions of mental illness by claiming that mental illness is manifested solely as a result of societal influence. He argued that society views certain actions as deviant and, in order to come to terms with and understand these actions, often places the label of mental illness on those who exhibit them. Certain expectations are then placed on these individuals and, over time, they unconsciously change their behaviour to fulfil them. Criteria for different mental illnesses are not consistently fulfilled by those who are diagnosed with them because all of these people suffer from the same disorder, they are simply fulfilled because the “mentally ill” believe they are supposed to act a certain way so, over time, come to do so. Scheff’s theory had many critics, most notably Walter Gove who consistently argued against Scheff with an almost opposite theory; he believed that society has no influence at all on “mental illness”. Instead, any societal perceptions of the “mentally ill” come about as a direct result of these people’s behaviours. Most sociologists’ views of labelling and mental illness have fallen somewhere between the extremes of Gove and Scheff. On the other hand, it is almost impossible to deny, given both common sense and research findings, that society’s negative perceptions of “crazy” people has had some effect on them. It seems that, realistically, labelling can accentuate and prolong the issues termed “mental illness”, but it is rarely the full cause.

Many other studies have been conducted in this general vein. To provide a few examples, several studies have indicated that most people associate being labelled mentally ill as being just as, or even more, stigmatising than being seen as a drug addict, ex-convict, or prostitute (for example: Brand & Claiborn 1976). Additionally, Page’s 1977 study found that self declared “ex-mental patients” are much less likely to be offered apartment leases or hired for jobs. Clearly, these studies and the dozens of others like them serve to demonstrate that labelling can have a very real and very large effect on the mentally ill. However, labelling has not been proven to be the sole cause of any symptoms of mental illness.

Peggy Thoits (1999) discusses the process of labelling someone with a mental illness in her article, “Sociological Approaches to Mental Illness”. Working off Thomas Scheff’s (1966) theory, Thoits claims that people who are labelled as mentally ill are stereotypically portrayed as unpredictable, dangerous, and unable to care for themselves. She also claims that “people who are labeled as deviant and treated as deviant become deviant.” This statement can be broken down into two processes, one that involves the effects of self-labelling and the other differential treatment from society based on the individual’s label. Therefore, if society sees mentally ill individuals as unpredictable, dangerous and reliant on others, then a person who may not actually be mentally ill but has been labelled as such, could become mentally ill.

The label of “mentally ill” may help a person seek help, for example psychotherapy or medication. Labels, while they can be stigmatising, can also lead those who bear them down the road to proper treatment and (hopefully) recovery. If one believes that “being mentally ill” is more than just believing one should fulfill a set of diagnostic criteria (as Scheff would argue; see above), then one would probably also agree that there are some who are labelled “mentally ill” who need help. It has been claimed that this could not happen if “we” did not have a way to categorise (and therefore label) them, although there are actually plenty of approaches to these phenomena that do not use categorical classifications and diagnostic terms, for example spectrum or continuum models. Here, people vary along different dimensions, and everyone falls at different points on each dimension.

Proponents of hard labelling, as opposed to soft labelling, believe that mental illness does not exist, but is merely deviance from norms of society, causing people to believe in mental illness. They view them as socially constructed illnesses and psychotic disorders.

The “Homosexual”

The application of labelling theory to homosexuality has been extremely controversial. It was Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues who pointed out the big discrepancy between the behaviour and the role attached to it. They had observed the often negative consequences of labelling and repeatedly condemned labelling people as homosexual:

It is amazing to observe how many psychologists and psychiatrists have accepted this sort of propaganda, and have come to believe that homosexual males and females are discretely different from persons who respond to natural stimuli. Instead of using these terms as substantives which stand for persons, or even as adjectives to describe persons, they may better be used to describe the nature of the overt sexual relations, or of the stimuli to which an individual erotically responds.… It would clarify our thinking if the terms could be dropped completely out of our vocabulary.

Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual.… Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into pigeonholes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.

The classification of sexual behavior as masturbatory, heterosexual, or homosexual, is, therefore, unfortunate if it suggests that only different types of persons seek out or accept each kind of sexual activity. There is nothing known in the anatomy or physiology of sexual response and orgasm which distinguishes masturbatory, heterosexual, or homosexual reactions.

In regard to sexual behavior, it has been possible to maintain this dichotomy only by placing all persons who are exclusively heterosexual in a heterosexual category and all persons who have any amount of experience with their own sex, even including those with the slightest experience, in a homosexual category.… The attempt to maintain a simple dichotomy on these matters exposes the traditional biases which are likely to enter whenever the heterosexual or homosexual classification of an individual is involved.

Erving Goffman’s Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity distinguished between the behaviour and the role assigned to it:

The term “homosexual” is generally used to refer to anyone who engages in overt sexual practices with a member of his own sex, the practice being called “homosexuality.” This usage appears to be based on a medical and legal frame of reference and provides much too broad and heterogenous a categorization for use here. I refer only to individuals who participate in a special community of understanding wherein members of one’s own sex are defined as the most desirable sexual objects, and sociability is energetically organized around the pursuit and entertainment of these objects.

Labeling theory was also applied to homosexuality by Evelyn Hookerand by Leznoff and Westley (1956), who published the first sociological study of the gay community. Erving Goffman and Howard Becker used the lives of gay-identified persons in their theories of labelling and interactionism. Simon and Gagnon likewise wrote: “It is necessary to move away from the obsessive concern with the sexuality of the individual, and attempt to see the homosexual in terms of the broader attachments that he must make to live in the world around him.” British sociologist Mary McIntosh reflected the enthusiasm of Europeans for labelling theory in her 1968 study, “The Homosexual Role:”

“The vantage-point of comparative sociology enables us to see that the conception of homosexuality as a condition is, itself, a possible object of study. This conception and the behavior it supports operate as a form of social control in a society in which homosexuality is condemned.… It is interesting to notice that homosexuals themselves welcome and support the notion that homosexuality as a condition. For just as the rigid categorization deters people from drifting into deviancy, so it appears to foreclose on the possibility of drifting back into normalcy and thus removes the element of anxious choice. It appears to justify the deviant behavior of the homosexual as being appropriate for him as a member of the homosexual category. The deviancy can thus be seen as legitimate for him and he can continue in it without rejecting the norm of society.”

Sara Fein and Elaine M. Nuehring (1981) were among the many who supported the application of labelling theory to homosexuality. They saw the gay role functioning as a “master status” around which other roles become organized. This brings a whole new set of problems and restrictions:

Placement in a social category constituting a master status prohibits individuals from choosing the extent of their involvement in various categories. Members of the stigmatized group lose the opportunity to establish their own personal system of evaluation and group membership as well as the ability to arrive at their own ranking of each personal characteristic.… For example, newly self-acknowledged homosexual individuals cannot take for granted that they share the world with others who hold congruent interpretations and assumptions; their behavior and motives, both past and present, will be interpreted in light of their stigma.

Perhaps the strongest proponent of labelling theory was Edward Sagarin. In his book, Deviants and Deviance, he wrote, “There are no homosexuals, transvestites, chemical addicts, suicidogenics, delinquents, criminals, or other such entities, in the sense of people having such identities.” Sagarin’s position was roundly condemned by academics in the gay community. Sagarin had written some gay novels under the pseudonym of Donald Webster Cory. According to reports, he later abandoned his gay identity and began promoting an interactionist view of homosexuality.

A number of authors adopted a modified, non-deviant, labelling theory. They rejected the stigmatic function of the gay role, but found it useful in describing the process of coming out and reconciling one’s homosexual experiences with the social role. Their works includes:

  • Homosexuals and the Military (1971);
  • Coming Out in the Gay World (1971);
  • Homosexual Identity: Commitment, Adjustment, and Significant Others (1973);
  • Male Homosexuals: Their Problems and Adaptations (1974);
  • Identity and Community in the Gay World (1974);
  • Components of Sexual Identity (1977);
  • Homosexualities: A Study of Diversity Among Men and Women (1978);
  • On ‘Doing’ and ‘Being’ Gay: Sexual Behavior and Homosexual Male Self-Identity (1978);
  • Homosexual Identity Formation: A Theoretical Model (1979, Cass identity model);
  • Becoming Homosexual: A model of Gay Identity Acquisition (1979);
  • Sexual Preference: Its Development in Men and Women (1981); and
  • Developmental Stages of the Coming Out Process (1982).

Barry Adam (1976) took those authors to task for ignoring the force of the oppression in creating identities and their inferiorising effects. Drawing upon the works of Albert Memmi, Adam showed how gay-identified persons, like Jews and blacks, internalise the hatred to justify their limitations of life choices. He saw the gravitation towards ghettos was evidence of the self-limitations:

A certain romantic liberalism runs through the literature, evident from attempts to paper over or discount the very real problems of inferiorization. Some researchers seem bent on ‘rescuing’ their subjects from ‘defamation’ by ignoring the problems of defeatism and complicit self-destruction. Avoidance of dispiriting reflection upon the day-to-day practice of dominated people appears to spring from a desire to ‘enhance’ the reputation of the dominated and magically relieve their plight. Careful observation has been sacrificed to the ‘power of positive thinking.’

Strong defence of labelling theory also arose within the gay community. Dan Slater of the Los Angeles Homosexual Information Centre said, “There is no such thing as a homosexual lifestyle. There is no such thing as gay pride or anything like that. Homosexuality is simply based on the sex act. Gay consciousness and all the rest are separatist and defeatist attitudes going back to centuries-old and out-moded conceptions that homosexuals are, indeed, different from other people.” In a later article, Slater (1971) stated the gay movement was going in the wrong direction:

Is it the purpose of the movement to try to assert sexual rights for everyone or create a political and social cult out of homosexuality? …Persons who perform homosexual acts or other non-conforming acts are sexually free. They want others enlightened. They want hostile laws changed, but they resent the attempt to organize their lives around homosexuality just as much as they resent the centuries-old attempt to organize their lives around heterosexuality.

William DuBay (1967) describes gay identity as one strategy for dealing with society’s oppression. It solves some problems but creates many more, replacing a closet of secrecy with one of gay identity. A better strategy, he suggests, is to reject the label and live as if the oppression did not exist. Quoting Goffman, he writes, “But of course what is a good adjustment for the individual can be an even better one for society.”

DuBay contends that the attempt to define homosexuality as a class of persons to be protected against discrimination as defined in the statutes has not reduced the oppression. The goal of the movement instead should be to gain acceptance of homosexual relationships as useful and productive for both society and the family. The movement has lost the high moral ground by sponsoring the “flight from choice” and not taking up the moral issues. “Persons whom we confine to back rooms and bars other societies have honored as tenders of children, astrologers, dancers, chanters, minstrels, jesters, artists, shamans, sacred warriors and judges, seers, healers, weavers of tales and magic.”

DuBay refers to the “gay trajectory,” in which a person first wraps himself in the gay role, organising his personality and his life around sexual behaviour. He might flee from his family and home town to a large gay centre. There, the bedevilling force of the stigma will introduce him to more excessive modes of deviance such as promiscuity, prostitution, alcoholism, and drugs. Many resist such temptations and try to normalise their life, but the fast lanes of gay society are littered with the casualties of gay identity. Some come to reject the label entirely. “Accomplishing the forbidden, they are neither gay nor straight. Again learning to choose, they develop the ability to make the ban ambiguous, taking responsibility and refusing explanations of their behaviors.”

John Henry Mackay (1985) writes about a gay hustler in Berlin adopting such a solution: “What was self-evident, natural, and not the least sick did not require an excuse through an explanation.… It was love just like any other love. Whoever could not or would not accept it as love was mistaken.”

There are those who reject the “gay label” for reasons other than shame or negative connotations. They do not reject their homosexuality. It is “gay” as an adjective they reject. Writer Alan Bennett and fashion icon André Leon Talley reject being labelled as a gay writer, a gay fashion designer. These men are openly gay, but believe when gay is used as an adjective, the label confines them.

Modified Labelling Theory

Bruce Link and colleagues (1989) had conducted several studies which point to the influence that labelling can have on mental patients. Through these studies, taking place in 1987, 1989, and 1997, Link advanced a “modified labelling theory” indicating that expectations of labelling can have a large negative effect, that these expectations often cause patients to withdraw from society, and that those labelled as having a mental disorder are constantly being rejected from society in seemingly minor ways but that, when taken as a whole, all of these small slights can drastically alter their self concepts. They come to both anticipate and perceive negative societal reactions to them, and this potentially damages their quality of life.

Modified labelling theory has been described as a “sophisticated social-psychological model of ‘why labels matter.'” In 2000, results from a prospective two-year study of patients discharged from a mental hospital (in the context of deinstitutionalisation) showed that stigma was a powerful and persistent force in their lives, and that experiences of social rejection were a persistent source of social stress. Efforts to cope with labels, such as not telling anyone, educating people about mental distress/disorder, withdrawing from stigmatising situations, could result in further social isolation and reinforce negative self-concepts. Sometimes an identity as a low self-esteem minority in society would be accepted. The stigma was associated with diminished motivation and ability to “make it in mainstream society” and with “a state of social and psychological vulnerability to prolonged and recurrent problems”. There was an up and down pattern in self-esteem, however, and it was suggested that, rather than simply gradual erosion of self-worth and increasing self-deprecating tendencies, people were sometimes managing, but struggling, to maintain consistent feelings of self-worth. Ultimately, “a cadre of patients had developed an entrenched, negative view of themselves, and their experiences of rejection appear to be a key element in the construction of these self-related feelings” and “hostile neighbourhoods may not only affect their self-concept but may also ultimately impact the patient’s mental health status and how successful they are.”

What is Neurosis?

Introduction

Neurosis is a class of functional mental disorders involving chronic distress, but neither delusions nor hallucinations. The term is no longer used by the professional psychiatric community in the United States, having been eliminated from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1980 with the publication of DSM III. However, it is still used in the ICD-10 Chapter V F40-48.

Neurosis should not be mistaken for psychosis, which refers to a loss of touch with reality. Nor should it be mistaken for neuroticism, a fundamental personality trait proposed in the Big Five personality traits theory.

Etymology

The term is derived from the Greek word neuron (νεῦρον, ‘nerve’) and the suffix -osis (-ωσις, ‘diseased’ or ‘abnormal condition’).

The term neurosis was coined by Scottish doctor William Cullen in 1769 to refer to “disorders of sense and motion” caused by a “general affection of the nervous system.” Cullen used the term to describe various nervous disorders and symptoms that could not be explained physiologically. Physical features, however, were almost inevitably present, and physical diagnostic tests, such as exaggerated knee-jerks, loss of the gag reflex and dermatographia, were used into the 20th century. The meaning of the term was redefined by Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud over the early and middle 20th century, and has continued to be used in psychology and philosophy.

The DSM eliminated the neurosis category in 1980, because of a decision by its editors to provide descriptions of behaviour rather than descriptions of hidden psychological mechanisms. This change has been controversial. Likewise, according to the American Heritage Medical Dictionary, neurosis is “no longer used in psychiatric diagnosis.”

Symptoms and Causes

Neurosis may be defined simply as a “poor ability to adapt to one’s environment, an inability to change one’s life patterns, and the inability to develop a richer, more complex, more satisfying personality.” There are many different neuroses, including:

According to C. George Boeree, professor emeritus at Shippensburg University, the symptoms of neurosis may involve:

… anxiety, sadness or depression, anger, irritability, mental confusion, low sense of self-worth, etc., behavioral symptoms such as phobic avoidance, vigilance, impulsive and compulsive acts, lethargy, etc., cognitive problems such as unpleasant or disturbing thoughts, repetition of thoughts and obsession, habitual fantasizing, negativity and cynicism, etc. Interpersonally, neurosis involves dependency, aggressiveness, perfectionism, schizoid isolation, socio-culturally inappropriate behaviors, etc.

Jungian Theory

Carl Jung found his approach particularly effective for patients who are well adjusted by social standards but are troubled by existential questions. Jung claims to have “frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life”. Accordingly, the majority of his patients “consisted not of believers but of those who had lost their faith”. Contemporary man, according to Jung,

…is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by ‘powers’ that are beyond his control. His gods and demons have not disappeared at all; they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an insatiable need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, food — and, above all, a large array of neuroses.

Jung found that the unconscious finds expression primarily through an individual’s inferior psychological function, whether it is thinking, feeling, sensation, or intuition. The characteristic effects of a neurosis on the dominant and inferior functions are discussed in his Psychological Types. Jung also found collective neuroses in politics: “Our world is, so to speak, dissociated like a neurotic.”

Psychoanalytic Theory

According to psychoanalytic theory, neuroses may be rooted in ego defence mechanisms, though the two concepts are not synonymous. Defence mechanisms are a normal way of developing and maintaining a consistent sense of self (i.e. an ego). However, only those thoughts and behaviours that produce difficulties in one’s life should be called neuroses.

A neurotic person experiences emotional distress and unconscious conflict, which are manifested in various physical or mental illnesses; the definitive symptom being anxiety. Neurotic tendencies are common and may manifest themselves as acute or chronic anxiety, depression, an obsessive compulsive disorder, a phobia, or a personality disorder.

Horney’s Theory

In her final book, Neurosis and Human Growth, Karen Horney lays out a complete theory of the origin and dynamics of neurosis. In her theory, neurosis is a distorted way of looking at the world and at oneself, which is determined by compulsive needs rather than by a genuine interest in the world as it is. Horney proposes that neurosis is transmitted to a child from his or her early environment and that there are many ways in which this can occur:

When summarized, they all boil down to the fact that the people in the environment are too wrapped up in their own neuroses to be able to love the child, or even to conceive of him as the particular individual he is; their attitudes toward him are determined by their own neurotic needs and responses.

The child’s initial reality is then distorted by his or her parents’ needs and pretences. Growing up with neurotic caretakers, the child quickly becomes insecure and develops basic anxiety. To deal with this anxiety, the child’s imagination creates an idealised self-image:

Each person builds up his personal idealized image from the materials of his own special experiences, his earlier fantasies, his particular needs, and also his given faculties. If it were not for the personal character of the image, he would not attain a feeling of identity and unity. He idealizes, to begin with, his particular “solution” of his basic conflict: compliance becomes goodness, love, saintliness; aggressiveness becomes strength, leadership, heroism, omnipotence; aloofness becomes wisdom, self-sufficiency, independence. What—according to his particular solution—appear as shortcomings or flaws are always dimmed out or retouched.

Once he identifies himself with his idealised image, a number of effects follow. He will make claims on others and on life based on the prestige he feels entitled to because of his idealised self-image. He will impose a rigorous set of standards upon himself in order to try to measure up to that image. He will cultivate pride, and with that will come the vulnerabilities associated with pride that lacks any foundation. Finally, he will despise himself for all his limitations. Vicious circles will operate to strengthen all of these effects.

Eventually, as he grows to adulthood, a particular “solution” to all the inner conflicts and vulnerabilities will solidify. He will be either:

  • Expansive, displaying symptoms of narcissism, perfectionism, or vindictiveness;
  • Self-effacing and compulsively compliant, displaying symptoms of neediness or codependence; or
  • Resigned, displaying schizoid tendencies.

In Horney’s view, mild anxiety disorders and full-blown personality disorders all fall under her basic scheme of neurosis as variations in the degree of severity and in the individual dynamics. The opposite of neurosis is a condition Horney calls self-realisation, a state of being in which the person responds to the world with the full depth of his or her spontaneous feelings, rather than with anxiety-driven compulsion. Thus the person grows to actualize his or her inborn potentialities. Horney compares this process to an acorn that grows and becomes a tree: the acorn has had the potential for a tree inside it all along.

What is Neuropsychiatry?

Introduction

Neuropsychiatry or Organic Psychiatry is a branch of medicine that deals with mental disorders attributable to diseases of the nervous system.

It preceded the current disciplines of psychiatry and neurology, which had common training, however, psychiatry and neurology have subsequently split apart and are typically practiced separately. Nevertheless, neuropsychiatry has become a growing subspecialty of psychiatry and it is also closely related to the fields of neuropsychology and behavioural neurology.

The Case for the Rapprochement of Neurology and Psychiatry

Given the considerable overlap between these subspecialities, there has been a resurgence of interest and debate relating to neuropsychiatry in academia over the last decade. Most of this work argues for a rapprochement of neurology and psychiatry, forming a specialty above and beyond a subspecialty of psychiatry. For example, Professor Joseph B. Martin, former Dean of Harvard Medical School and a neurologist by training, has summarized the argument for reunion: “the separation of the two categories is arbitrary, often influenced by beliefs rather than proven scientific observations. And the fact that the brain and mind are one makes the separation artificial anyway.” These points and some of the other major arguments are detailed below.

Mind/brain Monism

Neurologists have focused objectively on organic nervous system pathology, especially of the brain, whereas psychiatrists have laid claim to illnesses of the mind. This antipodal distinction between brain and mind as two different entities has characterised many of the differences between the two specialties. However, it has been argued that this division is fictional; evidence from the last century of research has shown that our mental life has its roots in the brain. Brain and mind have been argued not to be discrete entities but just different ways of looking at the same system (Marr, 1982). It has been argued that embracing this mind/brain monism may be useful for several reasons. First, rejecting dualism implies that all mentation is biological, which provides a common research framework in which understanding and treatment of mental disorders can be advanced. Second, it mitigates widespread confusion about the legitimacy of mental illness by suggesting that all disorders should have a footprint in the brain.

In sum, a reason for the division between psychiatry and neurology was the distinction between mind or first-person experience and the brain. That this difference is taken to be artificial by proponents of mind/brain monism supports a merge between these specialties.

Causal Pluralism

One of the reasons for the divide is that neurology traditionally looks at the causes of disorders from an “inside-the-skin” perspective (neuropathology, genetics) whereas psychiatry looks at “outside-the-skin” causation (personal, interpersonal, cultural). This dichotomy is argued not to be instructive and authors have argued that it is better conceptualized as two ends of a causal continuum. The benefits of this position are: firstly, understanding of aetiology will be enriched, in particular between brain and environment. One example is eating disorders, which have been found to have some neuropathology (Uher and Treasure, 2005) but also show increased incidence in rural Fijian school girls after exposure to television (Becker, 2004). Another example is schizophrenia, the risk for which may be considerably reduced in a healthy family environment (Tienari et al., 2004).

It is also argued that this augmented understanding of aetiology will lead to better remediation and rehabilitation strategies through an understanding of the different levels in the causal process where one can intervene. It may be that non-organic interventions, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), better attenuate disorders alone or in conjunction with drugs. Linden’s (2006) demonstration of how psychotherapy has neurobiological commonalities with pharmacotherapy is a pertinent example of this and is encouraging from a patient perspective as the potentiality for pernicious side effects is decreased while self-efficacy is increased.

In sum, the argument is that an understanding of the mental disorders must not only have a specific knowledge of brain constituents and genetics (inside-the-skin) but also the context (outside-the-skin) in which these parts operate (Koch and Laurent, 1999). Only by joining neurology and psychiatry, it is argued, can this nexus be used to reduce human suffering.

Organic Basis

To further sketch psychiatry’s history shows a departure from structural neuropathology, relying more upon ideology (Sabshin, 1990). A good example of this is Tourette syndrome, which Ferenczi (1921), although never having seen a patient with Tourette syndrome, suggested was the symbolic expression of masturbation caused by sexual repression. However, starting with the efficacy of neuroleptic drugs in attenuating symptoms (Shapiro, Shapiro and Wayne, 1973) the syndrome has gained pathophysiological support (e.g. Singer, 1997) and is hypothesized to have a genetic basis too, based on its high inheritability (Robertson, 2000). This trend can be seen for many hitherto traditionally psychiatric disorders (see table) and is argued to support reuniting neurology and psychiatry because both are dealing with disorders of the same system.

Table: Linking Traditional Psychiatric Symptoms or Disorders to Brain Structures and Genetic Abnormalities.

Psychiatric SymptomsPsychodynamic ExplanationNeural CorrelatesSource
DepressionAnger turned inwardLimbic-cortical dysregulation, monoamine imbalanceMayberg (1997)
Bipolar Disorder (Mania)NarcissisticPrefrontal cortex and hippocampus, anterior cingulate, amygdalaBarrett et al. (2003), Vawter, Freed, & Kleinman (2000)
SchizophreniaNarcissistic/escapismNMDA receptor activation in the human prefrontal cortexRoss et al. (2006)
Visual HallucinationProjection, cold distant mother causing a weak egoRetinogeniculocalcarine tract, ascending brainstem modulatory structuresMocellin, Walterfang, Velakoulis, (2006)
Auditory HallucinationProjection, cold distant mother causing a weak egoFrontotemporal functional connectivityShergill et al., 2000
Obsessive Compulsive DisorderHarsh parenting leading to love-hate conflictFrontal-subcortical circuitry, right caudate activitySaxena et al. (1998), Gamazo-Garran, Soutullo and Ortuno (2002)
Eating DisorderAttempted control of internal anxietyAtypical serotonin system, right frontal and temporal lobe dysfunction, changes to mesolimbic dopamine pathwaysKaye et al. (2005), Uher and Treasure (2005), Olsen (2011), Slochower (1987)

This table is in not exhaustive but provides some neurological bases to psychiatric symptoms.

Improved Patient Care

Further, it is argued that this nexus will allow a more refined nosology of mental illness to emerge thus helping to improve remediation and rehabilitation strategies beyond current ones that lump together ranges of symptoms. However, it cuts both ways: traditionally neurological disorders, like Parkinson’s disease, are being recognized for their high incidence of traditionally psychiatric symptoms, like psychosis and depression (Lerner and Whitehouse, 2002). These symptoms, which are largely ignored in neurology, can be addressed by neuropsychiatry and lead to improved patient care. In sum, it is argued that patients from both traditional psychiatry and neurology departments will see their care improved following a reuniting of the specialties.

Better Management Model

Schiffer et al. (2004) argue that there are good management and financial reasons for rapprochement.

US Institutions

Behavioural Neurology & Neuropsychiatry fellowships are accredited by the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties (UCNS; http://www.ucns.org), in a manner analogous to the accreditation of psychiatry and neurology residencies in the United States by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN).

The American Neuropsychiatric Association (ANPA) was established in 1988 and is the American medical subspecialty society for neuropsychiatrists. ANPA holds an annual meeting and offers other forums for education and professional networking amongst subspecialists in behavioural neurology & neuropsychiatry as well as clinicians, scientists, and educators in related fields. American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc. publishes the peer-reviewed Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, which is the official journal of ANPA.

International Organisations

The International Neuropsychiatric Association was established in 1996. INA holds congresses biennially in countries around the world and partners with regional neuropsychiatric associations around the world to support regional neuropsychiatric conferences and to facilitate the development of neuropsychiatry in the countries/regions where those conferences are held.

The British NeuroPsychiatry Association (BNPA) was founded in 1987 and is the leading academic and professional body for medical practitioners and professionals allied to medicine in the UK working at the interface of the clinical and cognitive neurosciences and psychiatry.

Recently, a new non-profit professional society named Neuropsychiatric Forum (NPF) was founded. NPF aims to support effective communication and interdisciplinary collaboration, develop education schemes and research projects, organise neuropsychiatric conferences and seminars.

What is Trichotillomania?

Introduction

Trichotillomania (TTM), also known as hair pulling disorder or compulsive hair pulling, is a mental disorder characterised by a long-term urge that results in the pulling out of one’s hair. This occurs to such a degree that hair loss can be seen. A brief positive feeling may occur as hair is removed. Efforts to stop pulling hair typically fail. Hair removal may occur anywhere; however, the head and around the eyes are most common. The hair pulling is to such a degree that it results in distress.

The disorder may run in families. It occurs more commonly in those with obsessive compulsive disorder. Episodes of pulling may be triggered by anxiety. People usually acknowledge that they pull their hair. On examination broken hairs may be seen. Other conditions that may present similarly include body dysmorphic disorder, however in that condition people remove hair to try to improve what they see as a problem in how they look.

Treatment is typically with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The medication clomipramine may also be helpful, as will clipping fingernails. Trichotillomania is estimated to affect one to four percent of people. Trichotillomania most commonly begins in childhood or adolescence. Women are affected about 10 times more often than men. The name was created by François Henri Hallopeau in 1889, from the Greek θριξ/τριχ; thrix (meaning “hair”), along with τίλλειν; tíllein (meaning “to pull”), and μανία; mania (meaning “madness”).

Brief History

Hair pulling was first mentioned by Aristotle in the fourth century B.C., was first described in modern literature in 1885, and the term trichotillomania was coined by the French dermatologist François Henri Hallopeau in 1889.

In 1987, trichotillomania was recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, third edition-revised (DSM-III-R).

Epidemiology

Although no broad-based population epidemiologic studies had been conducted as of 2009, the lifetime prevalence of trichotillomania is estimated to be between 0.6% and 4.0% of the overall population. With a 1% prevalence rate, 2.5 million people in the US may have trichotillomania at some time during their lifetimes.

Trichotillomania is diagnosed in all age groups; onset is more common during preadolescence and young adulthood, with mean age of onset between 9 and 13 years of age, and a notable peak at 12-13. Among preschool children the genders are equally represented; there appears to be a female predominance among preadolescents to young adults, with between 70% and 93% of patients being female. Among adults, females typically outnumber males by 3 to 1.

“Automatic” pulling occurs in approximately three-quarters of adult patients with trichotillomania.

Signs and Symptoms

Trichotillomania is usually confined to one or two sites, but can involve multiple sites. The scalp is the most common pulling site, followed by the eyebrows, eyelashes, face, arms, and legs. Some less common areas include the pubic area, underarms, beard, and chest. The classic presentation is the “Friar Tuck” form of vertex and crown alopecia. Children are less likely to pull from areas other than the scalp.

People who suffer from trichotillomania often pull only one hair at a time and these hair-pulling episodes can last for hours at a time. Trichotillomania can go into remission-like states where the individual may not experience the urge to “pull” for days, weeks, months, and even years.

Individuals with trichotillomania exhibit hair of differing lengths; some are broken hairs with blunt ends, some new growth with tapered ends, some broken mid-shaft, or some uneven stubble. Scaling on the scalp is not present, overall hair density is normal, and a hair pull test is negative (the hair does not pull out easily). Hair is often pulled out leaving an unusual shape. Individuals with trichotillomania may be secretive or shameful of the hair pulling behaviour.

An additional psychological effect can be low self-esteem, often associated with being shunned by peers and the fear of socialising, due to appearance and negative attention they may receive. Some people with trichotillomania wear hats, wigs, false eyelashes, eyebrow pencil, or style their hair in an effort to avoid such attention. There seems to be a strong stress-related component. In low-stress environments, some exhibit no symptoms (known as “pulling”) whatsoever. This “pulling” often resumes upon leaving this environment. Some individuals with trichotillomania may feel they are the only person with this problem due to low rates of reporting.

For some people, trichotillomania is a mild problem, merely a frustration. But for many, shame and embarrassment about hair pulling causes painful isolation and results in a great deal of emotional distress, placing them at risk for a co-occurring psychiatric disorder, such as a mood or anxiety disorder. Hair pulling can lead to great tension and strained relationships with family members and friends. Family members may need professional help in coping with this problem.

Other medical complications include infection, permanent loss of hair, repetitive stress injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, and gastrointestinal obstruction as a result of trichophagia. In trichophagia, people with trichotillomania also ingest the hair that they pull; in extreme (and rare) cases this can lead to a hair ball (trichobezoar). Rapunzel syndrome, an extreme form of trichobezoar in which the “tail” of the hair ball extends into the intestines, can be fatal if misdiagnosed.

Environment is a large factor which affects hair pulling. Sedentary activities such as being in a relaxed environment are conducive to hair pulling. A common example of a sedentary activity promoting hair pulling is lying in a bed while trying to rest or fall asleep. An extreme example of automatic trichotillomania is found when some patients have been observed to pull their hair out while asleep. This is called sleep-isolated trichotillomania.

Causes

Anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are more frequently encountered in people with trichotillomania. Trichotillomania has a high overlap with post traumatic stress disorder, and some cases of trichotillomania may be triggered by stress. Another school of thought emphasizes hair pulling as addictive or negatively reinforcing, as it is associated with rising tension beforehand and relief afterward. A neurocognitive model – the notion that the basal ganglia plays a role in habit formation and that the frontal lobes are critical for normally suppressing or inhibiting such habits – sees trichotillomania as a habit disorder.

Abnormalities in the caudate nucleus are noted in OCD, but there is no evidence to support that these abnormalities can also be linked to trichotillomania. One study has shown that individuals with trichotillomania have decreased cerebellar volume. These findings suggest some differences between OCD and trichotillomania. There is a lack of structural MRI studies on trichotillomania. In several MRI studies that have been conducted, it has been found that people with trichotillomania have more gray matter in their brains than those who do not suffer from the disorder.

It is likely that multiple genes confer vulnerability to trichotillomania. One study identified mutations in the SLITRK1 gene.

Diagnosis

Patients may be ashamed or actively attempt to disguise their symptoms. This can make diagnosis difficult as symptoms are not always immediately obvious, or have been deliberately hidden to avoid disclosure. If the patient admits to hair pulling, diagnosis is not difficult; if patients deny hair pulling, a differential diagnosis must be pursued. The differential diagnosis will include evaluation for alopecia areata, iron deficiency, hypothyroidism, tinea capitis, traction alopecia, alopecia mucinosa, thallium poisoning, and loose anagen syndrome. In trichotillomania, a hair pull test is negative.

A biopsy can be performed and may be helpful; it reveals traumatised hair follicles with perifollicular haemorrhage, fragmented hair in the dermis, empty follicles, and deformed hair shafts. Multiple catagen hairs are typically seen. An alternative technique to biopsy, particularly for children, is to shave a part of the involved area and observe for regrowth of normal hairs.

Classification

Trichotillomania is defined as a self-induced and recurrent loss of hair. It includes the criterion of an increasing sense of tension before pulling the hair and gratification or relief when pulling the hair. However, some people with trichotillomania do not endorse the inclusion of “rising tension and subsequent pleasure, gratification, or relief” as part of the criteria because many individuals with trichotillomania may not realise they are pulling their hair, and patients presenting for diagnosis may deny the criteria for tension prior to hair pulling or a sense of gratification after hair is pulled.

Trichotillomania may lie on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum, also encompassing OCD, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), nail biting (onychophagia) and skin picking (dermatillomania), tic disorders and eating disorders. These conditions may share clinical features, genetic contributions, and possibly treatment response; however, differences between trichotillomania and OCD are present in symptoms, neural function and cognitive profile. In the sense that it is associated with irresistible urges to perform unwanted repetitive behaviour, trichotillomania is akin to some of these conditions, and rates of trichotillomania among relatives of OCD patients is higher than expected by chance. However, differences between the disorder and OCD have been noted, including: differing peak ages at onset, rates of comorbidity, gender differences, and neural dysfunction and cognitive profile. When it occurs in early childhood, it can be regarded as a distinct clinical entity.

Because trichotillomania can be present in multiple age groups, it is helpful in terms of prognosis and treatment to approach three distinct subgroups by age: preschool age children, preadolescents to young adults, and adults.

In preschool age children, trichotillomania is considered benign. For these children, hair-pulling is considered either a means of exploration or something done subconsciously, similar to nail-biting and thumb-sucking, and almost never continues into further ages.

The most common age of onset of trichotillomania is between ages 9 and 13. In this age range, trichotillomania is usually chronic, and continues into adulthood. Trichiotillomania that begins in adulthood most commonly arises from underlying psychiatric causes.

Trichotillomania is often not a focused act, but rather hair pulling occurs in a “trance-like” state; hence, trichotillomania is subdivided into “automatic” versus “focused” hair pulling. Children are more often in the automatic, or unconscious, subtype and may not consciously remember pulling their hair. Other individuals may have focused, or conscious, rituals associated with hair pulling, including seeking specific types of hairs to pull, pulling until the hair feels “just right”, or pulling in response to a specific sensation. Knowledge of the subtype is helpful in determining treatment strategies.

Treatment

Treatment is based on a person’s age. Most pre-school age children outgrow the condition if it is managed conservatively. In young adults, establishing the diagnosis and raising awareness of the condition is an important reassurance for the family and patient. Non-pharmacological interventions, including behaviour modification programmes, may be considered; referrals to psychologists or psychiatrists may be considered when other interventions fail. When trichotillomania begins in adulthood, it is often associated with other mental disorders, and referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist for evaluation or treatment is considered best. The hair pulling may resolve when other conditions are treated.

Psychotherapy

Habit reversal training (HRT) has the highest rate of success in treating trichotillomania. HRT has also been shown to be a successful adjunct to medication as a way to treat trichotillomania. With HRT, the individual is trained to learn to recognise their impulse to pull and also teach them to redirect this impulse. In comparisons of behavioural versus pharmacologic treatment, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT, including HRT) have shown significant improvement over medication alone. It has also proven effective in treating children. Biofeedback, cognitive-behavioural methods, and hypnosis may improve symptoms. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is also demonstrating promise in trichotillomania treatment. A systematic review from 2012 found tentative evidence for “movement decoupling”.

Medication

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any medications for trichotillomania treatment.

Medications can be used to treat trichotillomania. Treatment with clomipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant, was shown in a small double-blind study to improve symptoms, but results of other studies on clomipramine for treating trichotillomania have been inconsistent. Naltrexone may be a viable treatment. Fluoxetine and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have limited usefulness in treating trichotillomania, and can often have significant side effects. Behavioural therapy has proven more effective when compared to fluoxetine. There is little research on the effectiveness of behavioural therapy combined with medication, and robust evidence from high-quality studies is lacking. Acetylcysteine treatment stemmed from an understanding of glutamate’s role in regulation of impulse control.

Different medications, depending on the individual, may increase hair pulling.

Devices

Technology can be used to augment habit reversal training or behavioural therapy. Several mobile apps exist to help log behaviour and focus on treatment strategies. There are also wearable devices that track the position of a user’s hands. They produce sound or vibrating notifications so that users can track rates of these events over time.

Prognosis

When it occurs in early childhood (before five years of age), the condition is typically self-limiting and intervention is not required. In adults, the onset of trichotillomania may be secondary to underlying psychiatric disturbances, and symptoms are generally more long-term.

Secondary infections may occur due to picking and scratching, but other complications are rare. Individuals with trichotillomania often find that support groups are helpful in living with and overcoming the disorder.

Society and Culture

Support groups and internet sites can provide recommended educational material and help persons with trichotillomania in maintaining a positive attitude and overcoming the fear of being alone with the disorder.

Media

A documentary film exploring trichotillomania, Bad Hair Life, was the 2003 winner of the International Health & Medical Media Award for best film in psychiatry and the winner of the 2004 Superfest Film Festival Merit Award.

Trichster is a 2016 documentary that follows seven individuals living with trichotillomania, as they navigate the complicated emotions surrounding the disorder, and the effect it has on their daily lives.

What is a Psychiatric Advance Directive?

Introduction

A psychiatric advance directive (PAD), also known as a mental health advance directive, is a written document that describes what a person wants to happen if at some time in the future they are judged to be suffering from a mental disorder in such a way that they are deemed unable to decide for themselves or to communicate effectively.

It can inform others about what treatment they want or do not want from psychiatrists or other mental health professionals, and it can identify a person to whom they have given the authority to make decisions on their behalf. A mental health advance directive is one kind of advance health care directive.

Legal Foundations

Psychiatric advance directives are legal documents used by persons currently enjoying legal capacity to declare their preferences and instructions for future mental health treatment, or to appoint a surrogate decision maker through Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPA), in advance of being targeted by coercive mental health laws, during which they may be stripped of legal capacity to make decisions.

In the United States, although 25 states have now passed legislation in the past decade establishing authority for PADs, there is relatively little public information available to address growing interest in these legal documents. In addition in states without explicit PAD statutes, very similar mental health advance care planning can and does take place under generic HCPA statutes – expanding the audience for PADs to all 50 states (see National Resource Centre on Psychiatric Advance Directives).

In addition, states are beginning to recognise legal obligations under the federal Patient Self-Determination Act of 1991, which includes informing all hospital patients that they have a right to prepare advance directives and – with certain caveats – that clinicians are obliged to follow these directives.

Finally, the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organisations (JCAHO) requires behavioural health facilities to ask patients if they have PADs. The Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that patients have the right to formulate advance directives and to have hospital staff and practitioners who provide coercive interventions in the hospital comply with these directives. Hospitals out of compliance risk loss of Medicare and Medicaid revenue.

Proponents of these directives believe thy of followed by treatment providers, crisis planning using PADs will help involuntary detainees retain control over their decision making – especially during times when they are labelled incompetent. Additionally, advocates argue that health care agents will be instrumental in providing inpatient clinicians with information that can be central to patients’ treatment, including history of side effects and relevant medical conditions.

Clinical Benefits

Recent data from a NIH-funded study conducted by researchers at Duke University has shown that creating a PAD with a trained facilitator increases therapeutic alliance with clinicians, enhances involuntary patients’ treatment satisfaction and perceived autonomy, and improves treatment decision-making capacity among people labelled with severe mental illness.

Moreover, PADs provide a transportable document – increasingly accessible through electronic directories – to convey information about a detainee’s treatment history, including medical disorders, emergency contact information, and medication side effects. Clinicians often have limited information about citizens detained and labelled as psychiatric patients who present or are coercively presented and labelled as in crisis. Nonetheless, these are the typical settings in which clinicians are called upon to make critical patient-management and treatment decisions, using whatever limited data may be available. With PADs, clinicians could gain immediate access to relevant information about individual cases and thus improve the quality of clinical decision-making – appropriately managing risk to patients and others’ safety while also enhancing patients’ long-term autonomy.

For these reasons, PADs are seen as an innovative and effective way of enhancing values of autonomy and social welfare for detainees labelled with mental illness. Since PADs are among the first laws that are specifically intended to promote autonomy among people detained under mental health laws, wider use of PADs would empower a traditionally disenfranchised group when targeted for coercive psychiatry.

Barriers

National surveys in the United States indicate that although approximately 70% of people targeted by coercive psychiatry laws would want a PAD if offered assistance in completing one, less than 10% have actually completed a PAD.

Some people detained and forcibly drugged under coercive psychiatry laws report difficulty in understanding advance directives, scepticism about their benefit, and lack of contact with a trusted individual who could serve as proxy decision maker. The sheer complexity of filling out these legal forms, obtaining witnesses, having the documents notarized, and filing the documents in a medical record or registry may pose a formidable barrier.

Recent studies of practitioners of coercive psychiatry’s attitudes about PADs suggest that they are generally supportive of these legal instruments, but have significant concerns about some features of PADs and the feasibility of implementing them in usual coercive intervention settings. Clinicians are concerned about lack of access to PAD documents in a commitment, lack of staff training on PADs, lack of communication between staff across different components of mental health systems, and lack of time to review the advance directive documents.

In a survey conducted of 600 psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers showed that the vast majority thought advance care planning for crises would help improve patients’ overall mental health care. Further, the more clinicians knew about PAD laws, the more favourable were their attitudes toward these practices. For instance, while most psychiatrists, social workers, and psychologists surveyed believed PADs would be helpful to people detained and targeted for forced drugging and electroshock when labelled with severe mental illnesses, clinicians with more legal knowledge about PAD laws were more likely to endorse PADs as a beneficial part of patients’ treatment planning.

However, many clinicians reported NOT knowing enough about how PADs work and specifically indicated they lacked resources to readily help patients fill out PADs. Thus, if clinicians knew more about advance directives and had ready assistance for creating PADs, they said they would be much more likely to help their clients develop crisis plans.

Resources

It thus has become clear that the potential significance of PADs is becoming widely recognised among those targeted for coercive psychiatry, survivors of coercive psychiatry, influential policy makers, clinicians, family members, and patient advocacy groups but that significantly more concerted efforts at dissemination were needed. The community of stakeholders interested in PADs and the broader concept of self-directed care are in need of online resource and gathering place for exchange of views and information.

As a result, in the United States, a collaboration between the Bazelon Centre for Mental Health Law and Duke University has led to creation of the MacArthur Foundation-funded National Resource Centre on Psychiatric Advance Directives, the only web portal exclusively devoted to developing a learning community to help people targeted for coercive psychiatry, their families, and clinicians prepare for, and ultimately prevent, coercive psychiatry interventions. The NRC-PAD includes basic information, frequently asked questions, educational webcasts, web blog, most recent research, legal analyses, and state-by-state information on PADs and patient-centred crisis planning. The NRC-PAD website thus includes easy step-by-step information to help those targeted for forced drugging, family, and clinicians complete PADs that mirror the provisions in the PAD statutes.

Book: Mental Health Disorders: A Social Problem That Needs Help From Society, How To Provide Treatment, Mental Health Audiobook

Book Title:

Mental Health Disorders: A Social Problem That Needs Help From Society, How To Provide Treatment, Mental Health Audiobook.

Author(s): Scott Langanke.

Year: 2021.

Edition: First (1ed).

Publisher: Independently Published.

Type(s): Paperback.

Synopsis:

There are many different mental disorders, with different presentations. They are generally characterised by a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behaviour, and relationships with others. Mental disorders include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other psychoses, dementia, and developmental disorders including autism.

It is becoming an imperative social problem that needs our joined hands to tackle.

This audiobook is designed for mental health professionals who do not have much time to study and also for ordinary people who want to understand more about mental disorders in order to help themselves or others overcome difficulties. It comes in text & audio format so that you can listen to it while at the gym or stuck in traffic! Sections include:

  1. Introduction.
  2. Cautionary Statement for Forensic Use of DSM-5.
  3. Personality Disorders.
  4. Brief Psychotic Disorder.
  5. Schizotypal Disorder.
  6. Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
  7. Diagnostic Criteria For Autism And Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
  8. Neurodevelopmental Disorders.
  9. Communication Disorders.
  10. Specific Learning Disorder.

And SO MUCH MORE!

What is Biological Psychiatry?

Introduction

Biological psychiatry or biopsychiatry is an approach to psychiatry that aims to understand mental disorder in terms of the biological function of the nervous system. It is interdisciplinary in its approach and draws on sciences such as neuroscience, psychopharmacology, biochemistry, genetics, epigenetics and physiology to investigate the biological bases of behaviour and psychopathology. Biopsychiatry is the branch of medicine which deals with the study of the biological function of the nervous system in mental disorders.

There is some overlap with neurology, which focuses on disorders where gross or visible pathology of the nervous system is apparent, such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy, encephalitis, neuritis, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. There is also some overlap with neuropsychiatry, which typically deals with behavioral disturbances in the context of apparent brain disorder. In contrast biological psychiatry describes the basic principles and then delves deeper into various disorders. It is structured to follow the organisation of the DSM-IV, psychiatry’s primary diagnostic and classification guide. The contributions of this field explore functional neuroanatomy, imaging, and neuropsychology and pharmacotherapeutic possibilities for depression, anxiety and mood disorders, substance abuse and eating disorders, schizophrenia and psychotic disorders, and cognitive and personality disorders.

Biological psychiatry and other approaches to mental illness are not mutually exclusive, but may simply attempt to deal with the phenomena at different levels of explanation. Because of the focus on the biological function of the nervous system, however, biological psychiatry has been particularly important in developing and prescribing drug-based treatments for mental disorders.

In practice, however, psychiatrists may advocate both medication and psychological therapies when treating mental illness. The therapy is more likely to be conducted by clinical psychologists, psychotherapists, occupational therapists or other mental health workers who are more specialised and trained in non-drug approaches.

The history of the field extends back to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, but the phrase biological psychiatry was first used in peer-reviewed scientific literature in 1953. The phrase is more commonly used in the United States than in some other countries such as the UK. However the term “biological psychiatry” is sometimes used as a phrase of disparagement in controversial dispute.

Brief History

Early 20th Century

Sigmund Freud was originally focused on the biological causes of mental illness. Freud’s professor and mentor, Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke, strongly believed that thought and behaviour were determined by purely biological factors. Freud initially accepted this and was convinced that certain drugs (particularly cocaine) functioned as antidepressants. He spent many years trying to “reduce” personality to neurology, a cause he later gave up on before developing his now well-known psychoanalytic theories.

Nearly 100 years ago, Harvey Cushing, the father of neurosurgery, noted that pituitary gland problems often cause mental health disorders. He wondered whether the depression and anxiety he observed in patients with pituitary disorders were caused by hormonal abnormalities, the physical tumour itself, or both.

Mid 20th Century

An important point in modern history of biological psychiatry was the discovery of modern antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs. Chlorpromazine (also known as Thorazine), an antipsychotic, was first synthesized in 1950. In 1952, iproniazid, a drug being trialled against tuberculosis, was serendipitously discovered to have anti-depressant effects, leading to the development of monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) as the first class of antidepressants. In 1959 imipramine, the first tricyclic antidepressant, was developed. Research into the action of these drugs led to the first modern biological theory of mental health disorders called the catecholamine theory, later broadened to the monoamine theory, which included serotonin. These were popularly called the “chemical imbalance” theory of mental health disorders.

Late 20th Century

Starting with fluoxetine (marketed as Prozac) in 1988, a series of monoamine-based antidepressant medications belonging to the class of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors were approved. These were no more effective than earlier antidepressants, but generally had fewer side effects. Most operate on the same principle, which is modulation of monoamines (neurotransmitters) in the neuronal synapse. Some drugs modulate a single neurotransmitter (typically serotonin). Others affect multiple neurotransmitters, called dual action or multiple action drugs. They are no more effective clinically than single action versions. That most antidepressants invoke the same biochemical method of action may explain why they are each similarly effective in rough terms. Recent research indicates antidepressants often work but are less effective than previously thought.

Problems with Catecholamine/Monoamine Hypotheses

The monoamine hypothesis was compelling, especially based on apparently successful clinical results with early antidepressant drugs, but even at the time there were discrepant findings. Only a minority of patients given the serotonin-depleting drug reserpine became depressed; in fact reserpine even acted as an antidepressant in many cases. This was inconsistent with the initial monoamine theory which said depression was caused by neurotransmitter deficiency.

Another problem was the time lag between antidepressant biological action and therapeutic benefit. Studies showed the neurotransmitter changes occurred within hours, yet therapeutic benefit took weeks.

To explain these behaviours, more recent modifications of the monoamine theory describe a synaptic adaptation process which takes place over several weeks. Yet this alone does not appear to explain all of the therapeutic effects.

Scope and Detailed Definition

Biological psychiatry is a branch of psychiatry where the focus is chiefly on researching and understanding the biological basis of major mental disorders such as unipolar and bipolar affective (mood) disorders, schizophrenia and organic mental disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. This knowledge has been gained using imaging techniques, psychopharmacology, neuroimmunochemistry and so on. Discovering the detailed interplay between neurotransmitters and the understanding of the neurotransmitter fingerprint of psychiatric drugs such as clozapine has been a helpful result of the research.

On a research level, it includes all possible biological bases of behaviour – biochemical, genetic, physiological, neurological and anatomical. On a clinical level, it includes various therapies, such as drugs, diet, avoidance of environmental contaminants, exercise, and alleviation of the adverse effects of life stress, all of which can cause measurable biochemical changes. The biological psychiatrist views all of these as possible aetiologies of or remedies for mental health disorders.

However, the biological psychiatrist typically does not discount talk therapies. Medical psychiatric training generally includes psychotherapy and biological approaches. Accordingly, psychiatrists are usually comfortable with a dual approach: “psychotherapeutic methods […] are as indispensable as psychopharmacotherapy in a modern psychiatric clinic”.

Basis for Biological Psychiatry

Sigmund Freud developed psychotherapy in the early 1900s, and through the 1950s this technique was prominent in treating mental health disorders.

However, in the late 1950s, the first modern antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs were developed: chlorpromazine (also known as Thorazine), the first widely used antipsychotic, was synthesized in 1950, and iproniazid, one of the first antidepressants, was first synthesized in 1957. In 1959 imipramine, the first tricyclic antidepressant, was developed.

Based significantly on clinical observations of the above drug results, in 1965 the seminal paper “The catecholamine hypothesis of affective disorders” was published. It articulated the “chemical imbalance” hypothesis of mental health disorders, especially depression. It formed much of the conceptual basis for the modern era in biological psychiatry.

The hypothesis has been extensively revised since its advent in 1965. More recent research points to deeper underlying biological mechanisms as the possible basis for several mental health disorders.

Modern brain imaging techniques allow non-invasive examination of neural function in patients with mental health disorders, however this is currently experimental. With some disorders it appears the proper imaging equipment can reliably detect certain neurobiological problems associated with a specific disorder. If further studies corroborate these experimental results, future diagnosis of certain mental health disorders could be expedited using such methods.

Another source of data indicating a significant biological aspect of some mental health disorders is twin studies. Identical twins have the same nuclear DNA, so carefully constructed studies may indicate the relative importance of environmental and genetic factors on the development of a particular mental health disorder.

The results from this research and the associated hypotheses form the basis for biological psychiatry and the treatment approaches in a clinical setting.

Scope of Clinical Biological Psychiatric Treatment

Since various biological factors can affect mood and behaviour, psychiatrists often evaluate these before initiating further treatment. For example, dysfunction of the thyroid gland may mimic a major depressive episode, or hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) may mimic psychosis.

While pharmacological treatments are used to treat many mental disorders, other non-drug biological treatments are used as well, ranging from changes in diet and exercise to transcranial magnetic stimulation and electroconvulsive therapy. Types of non-biological treatments such as cognitive therapy, behavioural therapy, and psychodynamic psychotherapy are often used in conjunction with biological therapies. Biopsychosocial models of mental illness are widely in use, and psychological and social factors play a large role in mental disorders, even those with an organic basis such as schizophrenia.

Diagnostic Process

Correct diagnosis is important for mental health disorders, otherwise the condition could worsen, resulting in a negative impact on both the patient and the healthcare system. Another problem with misdiagnosis is that a treatment for one condition might exacerbate other conditions. In other cases apparent mental health disorders could be a side effect of a serious biological problem such as concussion, brain tumour, or hormonal abnormality, which could require medical or surgical intervention.

Examples of Biologic Treatments

  • Seasonal affective disorder: light therapy, SSRIs (Like fluoxetine and paroxetine).
  • Clinical depression: SSRIs, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (venlafaxine), dopamine reuptake inhibitors: (bupropion), tricyclic antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, electroconvulsive therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation, fish oil, St. John’s wort.
  • Bipolar disorder: lithium carbonate, antipsychotics (like olanzapine or quetiapine), anticonvulsants (like valproic acid, lamotrigine and topiramate).
  • Schizophrenia: antipsychotics such as haloperidol, clozapine, olanzapine, risperidone and quetiapine.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder: SSRIs, benzodiazepines, buspirone.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: tricyclic antidepressants, SSRIs.
  • ADHD: clonidine, D-amphetamine, methamphetamine, and methylphenidate.

Latest Biological Hypotheses of Mental Health Disorders

New research indicates different biological mechanisms may underlie some mental health disorders, only indirectly related to neurotransmitters and the monoamine chemical imbalance hypothesis.

Recent research indicates a biological “final common pathway” may exist which both electroconvulsive therapy and most current antidepressant drugs have in common. These investigations show recurrent depression may be a neurodegenerative disorder, disrupting the structure and function of brain cells, destroying nerve cell connections, even killing certain brain cells, and precipitating a decline in overall cognitive function.

In this new biological psychiatry viewpoint, neuronal plasticity is a key element. Increasing evidence points to various mental health disorders as a neurophysiological problem which inhibits neuronal plasticity.

This is called the neurogenic hypothesis of depression. It promises to explain pharmacological antidepressant action, including the time lag from taking the drug to therapeutic onset, why downregulation (not just upregulation) of neurotransmitters can help depression, why stress often precipitates mood disorders, and why selective modulation of different neurotransmitters can help depression. It may also explain the neurobiological mechanism of other non-drug effects on mood, including exercise, diet and metabolism. By identifying the neurobiological “final common pathway” into which most antidepressants funnel, it may allow rational design of new medications which target only that pathway. This could yield drugs which have fewer side effects, are more effective and have quicker therapeutic onset.

There is significant evidence that oxidative stress plays a role in schizophrenia.

Criticism

A number of patients, activists, and psychiatrists dispute biological psychiatry as a scientific concept or as having a proper empirical basis, for example arguing that there are no known biomarkers for recognized psychiatric conditions. This position has been represented in academic journals such as The Journal of Mind and Behaviour and Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, which publishes material specifically countering “the idea that emotional distress is due to an underlying organic disease.” Alternative theories and models instead view mental disorders as non-biomedical and might explain it in terms of, for example, emotional reactions to negative life circumstances or to acute trauma.

Fields such as social psychiatry, clinical psychology, and sociology may offer non-biomedical accounts of mental distress and disorder for certain ailments and are sometimes critical of biopsychiatry. Social critics believe biopsychiatry fails to satisfy the scientific method because they believe there is no testable biological evidence of mental disorders. Thus, these critics view biological psychiatry as a pseudoscience attempting to portray psychiatry as a biological science.

R.D. Laing argued that attributing mental disorders to biophysical factors was often flawed due to the diagnostic procedure. The “complaint” is often made by a family member, not the patient, the “history” provided by someone other than patient, and the “examination” consists of observing strange, incomprehensible behaviour. Ancillary tests (EEG, PET) are often done after diagnosis, when treatment has begun, which makes the tests non-blind and incurs possible confirmation bias. The psychiatrist Thomas Szasz commented frequently on the limitations of the medical approach to psychiatry and argued that mental illnesses are medicalised problems in living.

Silvano Arieti, while approving of the use of medication in some cases of schizophrenia, preferred intensive psychotherapy without medication if possible. He was also known for approving the use of electroconvulsive therapy on those with disorganised schizophrenia in order to make them reachable by psychotherapy. The views he expressed in Interpretation of Schizophrenia are nowadays known as the trauma model of mental disorders, an alternative to the biopsychiatric model.

Book: The Origins and Course of Common Mental Disorders

Book Title:

The Origins and Course of Common Mental Disorders.

Author(s): David Goldberg and Ian Goodyer.

Year: 2005.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: Routledge.

Type(s): Hardcover, Paperback, and Kindle.

Synopsis:

Why are some people more vulnerable to common mental disorders than others?

What effects do genes and environments exert on the development of mental disorders?

The Origins and Course of Common Mental Disorders describes the nature, characteristics and causes of common emotional and behavioural disorders as they develop across the lifespan, providing a clear and concise account of recent advances in our knowledge of the origins and history of anxious, depressive, anti-social, and substance related disorders.

Combining a lifespan approach with developments in neurobiology, this book describes the epidemiology of emotional and behavioural disorders in childhood, adolescence and adult life. David Goldberg and Ian Goodyer demonstrate how both genes and environments exert different but key effects on the development of these disorders and suggest a developmental model as the most appropriate for determining vulnerabilities for psychopathology. Divided into four sections, the book covers the:

  • Nature and distribution of common mental disorders.
  • Biological basis of common disorders.
  • Human life cycle relevant to common disorders.
  • Developmental model.

This highly readable account of the origins of emotional and behavioural disorders will be of interest to behavioural science students and all mental health professionals including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and counsellors.