What is Forensic Psychiatry?

Introduction

Forensic psychiatry is a subspeciality of psychiatry and is related to criminology. It encompasses the interface between law and psychiatry.

According to the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, it is defined as “a subspecialty of psychiatry in which scientific and clinical expertise is applied in legal contexts involving civil, criminal, correctional, regulatory, or legislative matters, and in specialized clinical consultations in areas such as risk assessment or employment.”

A forensic psychiatrist provides services – such as determination of competency to stand trial – to a court of law to facilitate the adjudicative process and provide treatment, such as medications and psychotherapy, to criminals.

Court Work

Forensic psychiatrists work with courts in evaluating an individual’s competency to stand trial, defences based on mental disorders (e.g. the insanity defence), and sentencing recommendations. The two major areas of criminal evaluations in forensic psychiatry are competency to stand trial (CST) and mental state at the time of the offense (MSO).

Competency to Stand Trial

Competency to stand trial (CST) is the competency evaluation to determine that defendants have the mental capacity to understand the charges and assist their attorneys. In the United States, this is seated in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which ensures the right to be present at one’s trial, to face one’s accusers, and to have help from an attorney. CST, sometimes referred to as adjudicative competency, serves three purposes: “preserving the dignity of the criminal process, reducing the risk of erroneous convictions, and protecting defendants’ decision-making autonomy”.

In 1960, the Supreme Court of the United States in Dusky v. United States established the standard for federal courts, ruling that “the test must be whether the defendant has sufficient present ability to consult with his attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding and a rational as well as factual understanding of proceedings against him.” The evaluations must assess a defendant’s ability to assist their legal counsel, meaning that they understand the legal charges against them, the implications of being a defendant, and the adversarial nature of the proceedings, including the roles played by defence counsel, prosecutors, judges, and the jury. They must be able to communicate relevant information to their attorney, and understand information provided by their attorney. Finally, they must be competent to make important decisions, such as whether or not to accept a plea agreement.

In England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, a similar legal concept is that of “fitness to plead”.

As an Expert Witness

Forensic psychiatrists are often called to be expert witnesses in both criminal and civil proceedings. Expert witnesses give their opinions about a specific issue. Often, the psychiatrist will have prepared a detailed report before testifying. The primary duty of the expert witness is to provide an independent opinion to the court. An expert is allowed to testify in court with respect to matters of opinion only when the matters in question are not ordinarily understandable to the finders of fact, be they judge or jury. As such, prominent leaders in the field of forensic psychiatry, from Thomas Gutheil (2009) to Robert Simon and Liza Gold (2010) and Sadoff (2011) have identified teaching as a critical dimension in the role of expert witness. The expert will be asked to form an opinion and to testify about that opinion, but in so doing will explain the basis for that opinion, which will include important concepts, approaches, and methods used in psychiatry.

Mental State Opinion

Mental state opinion (MSO) gives the court an opinion, and only an opinion, as to whether a defendant was able to understand what he/she was doing at the time of the crime. This is worded differently in many states, and has been rejected altogether in some, but in every setting, the intent to do a criminal act and the understanding of the criminal nature of the act bear on the final disposition of the case. Much of forensic psychiatry is guided by significant court rulings or laws that bear on this area which include these three standards:

  • M’Naghten rules: Excuses a defendant who, by virtue of a defect of reason or disease of the mind, does not know the nature and quality of the act, or, if he or she does, does not know that the act is indeed wrong.
  • Durham rule: Excuses a defendant whose conduct is the product of mental disorder.
  • ALI test: Excuses a defendant who, because of a mental disease or defect, lacks substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality (wrongfulness) of his or her conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law.

“Not guilty by reason of insanity” (NGRI) is one potential outcome in this type of trial. Importantly, insanity is a legal and not a medical term. Often, psychiatrists may be testifying for both the defence and the prosecution.

Forensic psychiatrists are also involved in the care of prisoners, both in jails and prisons, and in the care of the mentally ill who have committed criminal acts (such as those who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity).

Risk Management

Many past offenders against other people, and suspected or potential future offenders with mental health problems or an intellectual or developmental disability, are supervised in the community by forensic psychiatric teams made up of a variety of professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, and care workers. These teams have dual responsibilities: to promote both the welfare of their clients and the safety of the public. The aim is not so much to predict as to prevent violence, by means of risk management.

Risk assessment and management is a growth area in the forensic field, with much Canadian academic work being done in Ontario and British Columbia. This began with the attempt to predict the likelihood of a particular kind of offense being repeated, by combining “static” indicators from personal history and offense details in actuarial instruments such as the RRASOR and Static-99, which were shown to be more accurate than unaided professional judgment. More recently, use is being made also of “dynamic” risk factors, such as attitudes, impulsivity, mental state, family and social circumstances, substance use, and the availability and acceptance of support, to make a “structured professional judgment.” The aim of this is to move away from prediction to prevention, by identifying and then managing risk factors. This may entail monitoring, treatment, rehabilitation, supervision, and victim safety planning and depends on the availability of funding and legal powers. These schemes may be based on published assessments such as the HCR-20 (which incorporates 10 Historical, 5 Clinical and 5 Risk Management factors) and the risk of sexual violence protocol from Simon Fraser University, BC.

United Kingdom

In the UK, most forensic psychiatrists work for the National Health Service, in specialist secure units caring for mentally ill offenders (as well as people whose behaviour has made them impossible to manage in other hospitals). These can be either medium secure units (of which there are many throughout the country) or high secure hospitals (also known as special hospitals), of which three are in England and one in Scotland (the State Hospital, Carstairs), the best known of which is Broadmoor Hospital. The other ‘specials’ are Ashworth hospital in Maghull, Liverpool, and Rampton hospital in Nottinghamshire. Also, a number of private-sector medium secure units sell their beds exclusively to the NHS, as not enough secure beds are available in the NHS system.

Forensic psychiatrists often also do prison inreach work, in which they go into prisons and assess and treat people suspected of having mental disorders; much of the day-to-day work of these psychiatrists comprises care of very seriously mentally ill patients, especially those suffering from schizophrenia. Some units also treat people with severe personality disorder or learning disabilities. The areas of assessment for courts are also somewhat different in Britain, because of differing mental health law. Fitness to plead and mental state at the time of the offence are indeed issues given consideration, but the mental state at the time of trial is also a major issue, and this assessment most commonly leads to the use of mental health legislation to detain people in hospitals, as opposed to their getting a prison sentence.

Learning-disabled offenders who are a continuing risk to others may be detained in learning-disability hospitals (or specialised community-based units with a similar regimen, as the hospitals have mostly been closed). This includes those who commit serious crimes of violence, including sexual violence, and fire-setting. They would be cared for by learning disability psychiatrists and registered learning disability nurses. Some psychiatrists doing this work have dual training in learning disability and forensic psychiatry or learning disability and adolescent psychiatry. Some nurses would have training in mental health, also.

Court work (medicolegal work) is generally undertaken as private work by psychiatrists (most often forensic psychiatrists), as well as forensic and clinical psychologists, who usually also work within the NHS. This work is generally funded by the Legal Services Commission (used to be called Legal Aid).

Canada

Criminal Law Framework

In Canada, certain credentialed medical practitioners may, at their discretion, make state-sanctioned investigations into and diagnosis of mental illness. Appropriate use of the DSM-IV-TR is discussed in its section entitled “Use of the DSM-IV-TR in Forensic Settings”.

Concerns have been expressed that the Canadian criminal justice system discriminates based on DSM IV diagnosis within the context of Part XX of the Criminal Code. This part sets out provisions for, among other things, court ordered attempts at “treatment” before individuals receive a trial as described in section 672.58 of the Criminal Code. Also provided for are court ordered “psychiatric assessments”. Critics have also expressed concerns that use of the DSM-IV-TR may conflict with section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the fundamental freedom of “thought, belief, opinion, and expression”.

Confidentiality

The position of the Canadian Psychiatric Association holds, “in recent years, serious incursions have been made by governments, powerful commercial interests, law enforcement agencies, and the courts on the rights of persons to their privacy.” It goes on to state, “breaches or potential breaches of confidentiality in the context of therapy seriously jeopardize the quality of the information communicated between patient and psychiatrist and also compromise the mutual trust and confidence necessary for effective therapy to occur.”

An outline of the forensic psychiatric process as it occurs in the province of Ontario is presented in the publication The Forensic Mental Health System In Ontario: An Information Guide published by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. The Guide states: “Whatever you tell a forensic psychiatrist and the other professionals assessing you is not confidential.” The Guide further states: “The forensic psychiatrist will report to the court using any available information, such as: police and hospital records, information given by your friends, family or co-workers, observations of you in the hospital.” Also according to the Guide: “You have the right to refuse to take part in some or all of the assessment. Sometimes your friends or family members will be asked for information about you. They have the right to refuse to answer questions, too.”

Of note, the emphasis in the guide is on the right to refuse participation. This may seem unusual given that a result of a verdict of “Not Criminally Responsible by reason of Mental Disorder” is often portrayed as desirable to the defence, similar to the insanity defence in the United States. A verdict of “Not Criminally Responsible” is referred to as a “defence” by the Criminal Code. However, the issue of the accused’s mental state can also be raised by the Crown or by the court itself, rather than solely by the defence counsel, differentiating it from many other legal defences.

Treatment/Assessment Conflict

In Ontario, a court-ordered inpatient forensic assessment for criminal responsibility typically involves both treatment and assessment being performed with the accused in the custody of a single multidisciplinary team over a 30- or 60-day period. Concerns have been expressed that an accused may feel compelled on ethical, medical, or legal grounds to divulge information, medical, or otherwise, to assessors in an attempt to allow for and ensure safe and appropriate treatment during that period of custody.

Some Internet references address treatment/assessment conflict as it relates to various justice systems, particularly civil litigation in other jurisdictions. The American Academy Of Psychiatry and the Law states in its ethics guidelines, “when a treatment relationship exists, such as in correctional settings, the usual physician-patient duties apply”, which may be seen as contradiction.

South Africa

In South Africa, patients are referred for observation for a period of 30 days by the courts if questions exist as to CST and MSO. Serious crimes require a panel, which may include two or more psychiatrists. Should the courts find the defendant not criminally responsible, the defendant may become a state patient and be admitted in a forensic psychiatric hospital. They are referred to receive treatment for an indefinite period, but most were back in the community after three years.

Training Standards

Some practitioners of forensic psychiatry have taken extra training in that specific area. In the United States, one-year fellowships are offered in this field to psychiatrists who have completed their general psychiatry training. Such psychiatrists may then be eligible to sit for a board certification examination in forensic psychiatry. In Britain, one is required to complete a three-year subspeciality training in forensic psychiatry, after completing one’s general psychiatry training, before receiving a Certificate of Completion of Training as a forensic psychiatrist. In some countries, general psychiatrists can practice forensic psychiatry, as well. However, other countries, such as Japan, require a specific certification from the government to do this type of work.

References

Gutheil, T.G. (2009) The Psychiatrist as Expert Witness. 2nd Ed. Washington: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Robert, S. & Gold, L. (Eds). (2010) American Psychiatric Textbook of Forensic Psychiatry. Washington: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Sadoff, R.L. (2011). Ethical Issues in Forensic Psychiatry: Minimizing Harm. New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwall.

What is Geriatric Psychiatry?

Introduction

Geriatric psychiatry, also known as geropsychiatry, psychogeriatrics or psychiatry of old age, is a subspecialty of psychiatry dealing with the study, prevention, and treatment of mental disorders in humans with old age.

As the population ages, particularly in developing countries, this field is becoming more needed. The diagnosis, treatment and management of dementia and depression are two areas of this field. Geriatric psychiatry is an official subspecialty in psychiatry with a defined curriculum of study and core competencies.

International

The International Psychogeriatric Association is an international community of scientists and healthcare geriatric professionals working for mental health in aging. International Psychogeriatrics is the official journal of the International Psychogeriatric Association.

United Kingdom

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is responsible for training and certifying psychiatrists in the United Kingdom. Within the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Faculty of Old Age Psychiatry is responsible for training in Old Age Psychiatry. Doctors who have membership of the Royal College of Psychiatrists can undertake a three or four year training programme to become a specialist in Old Age Psychiatry. There is currently a shortage of old age psychiatrists in the United Kingdom.

United States

The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP) is the national organisation representing health care providers specialising in late life mental disorders. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry is the official journal of the AAGP. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and the American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry both issue a board certification in geriatric psychiatry.

After a 4-year residency in psychiatry, a psychiatrist can complete a one-year fellowship in geriatric psychiatry. Many fellowships in geriatric psychiatry exist.

Name

The geropsychiatric unit, the term for a hospital-based geriatric psychiatry programme, was introduced in 1984 by Norman White MD, when he opened New England’s first specialised programme at a community hospital in Rochester, New Hampshire. White is a pioneer in geriatric psychiatry, being among the first psychiatrists nationally to achieve board certification in the field. The prefix psycho- had been proposed for the geriatric programme, but White, knowing New Englanders’ aversion to anything psycho- lobbied successfully for the name geropsychiatric rather than psychogeriatrics.

Book: A Straight Talking Introduction to the Power Threat Meaning Framework: An Alternative to Psychiatric Diagnosis

Book Title:

A Straight Talking Introduction to the Power Threat Meaning Framework: An Alternative to Psychiatric Diagnosis (The Straight Talking Introduction Series).

Author(s): Mary Boyle and Lucy Johnstone.

Year: 2020.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: PCCS Books.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

The current mainstream way of describing psychological and emotional distress assumes it is the result of medical illnesses that need diagnosing and treating. This book summarises a powerful alternative to psychiatric diagnosis that asks not ‘What’s wrong with you?’ but ‘What’s happened to you?’ The Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTMF) was co-produced by a core group of psychologists and service users and launched in 2018, prompting considerable interest in the UK and worldwide. It argues that emotional distress, unusual experiences and many forms of troubled or troubling behaviour are understandable when viewed in the context of a person’s life and circumstances, the cultural and social norms we are expected to live up to and the degree to which we are exposed to trauma, abuse, injustice and inequality. The PTMF offers all of us the tools to create new, hopeful narratives about the reasons for our distress that are not based on psychiatric diagnosis and to find ways forward as individuals, families, social groups and whole societies.

Book: A Prescription for Psychiatry: Why We Need a Whole New Approach to Mental Health and Wellbeing

Book Title:

A Prescription for Psychiatry: Why We Need a Whole New Approach to Mental Health and Wellbeing.

Author(s): Peter Kinderman.

Year: 2014.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

A Prescription for Psychiatry lays bare the flaws and failings of traditional mental health care and offers a radical alternative. Exposing the old-fashioned biological ‘disease model’ of psychiatry as unscientific and unhelpful, it calls for a revolution in the way we plan and deliver care. Kinderman challenges the way we think about mental health problems, arguing that the origins of distress are largely social, and urges a change from a ‘disease model’ to a ‘psychosocial model’. The book persuasively argues that we should significantly reduce our use of psychiatric medication, and help should be tailored to each person’s unique needs. This is a manifesto for an entirely new approach to psychiatric care; one that truly offers care rather than coercion, therapy rather than medication, and a return to the common sense appreciation that distress is usually an understandable reaction to life’s challenges.

On This Day … 28 March

People (Births)

  • 1955 – John Alderdice, Baron Alderdice, Northern Irish psychiatrist and politician, 1st Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

John Alderdice

John Thomas Alderdice, Baron Alderdice (born 28 March 1955 is a Northern Ireland politician.

He was Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly 1998–2004, leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland 1987-1998, and since 1996 has sat in the House of Lords as a Liberal Democrat.

John was educated at Ballymena Academy and the Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) where he studied medicine and qualified in 1978. In 1977 he married Joan Hill, with whom he has two sons and one daughter. He worked part-time as a consultant psychiatrist in psychotherapy in the NHS from 1988 until he retired from psychiatric practice in 2010. He also lectured at Queen’s University’s Faculty of Medicine between 1991 and 1999.

Alderdice claims a distant relationship to John King, a 19th-century Australian explorer and the sole survivor of the Burke and Wills expedition.

What is Biological Pyschitry?

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.

On This Day … 23 March

People (Births)

  • 1900 – Erich Fromm, German psychologist and sociologist (d. 1980).
  • 1933 – Philip Zimbardo, American psychologist and academic.

People (Deaths)

  • 2008 – Vaino Vahing, Estonian psychiatrist, author, and playwright (b. 1940).

Erich Fromm

Erich Seligmann Fromm (23 March 1900 to 18 March 1980) was a German social psychologist, psychoanalyst, sociologist, humanistic philosopher, and democratic socialist. He was a German Jew who fled the Nazi regime and settled in the US. He was one of the founders of The William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology in New York City and was associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory.

Philip Zimbardo

Philip George Zimbardo (/zɪmˈbɑːrdoʊ/; born 23 March 1933) is an American psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University. He became known for his 1971 Stanford prison experiment, which was later severely criticised for both ethical and scientific reasons. He has authored various introductory psychology textbooks for college students, and other notable works, including The Lucifer Effect, The Time Paradox, and The Time Cure. He is also the founder and president of the Heroic Imagination Project.

Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford prison experiment (SPE) was a social psychology experiment that attempted to investigate the psychological effects of perceived power, focusing on the struggle between prisoners and prison officers. It was conducted at Stanford University on the days of 15-21 August 1971, by a research group led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo using college students. In the study, volunteers were assigned to be either “guards” or “prisoners” by the flip of a coin, in a mock prison, with Zimbardo himself serving as the superintendent. Several “prisoners” left mid-experiment, and the whole experiment was abandoned after six days. Early reports on experimental results claimed that students quickly embraced their assigned roles, with some guards enforcing authoritarian measures and ultimately subjecting some prisoners to psychological torture, while many prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, by the officers’ request, actively harassed other prisoners who tried to stop it. The experiment has been described in many introductory social psychology textbooks, although some have chosen to exclude it because its methodology is sometimes questioned.

The US Office of Naval Research funded the experiment as an investigation into the causes of difficulties between guards and prisoners in the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps. Certain portions of it were filmed, and excerpts of footage are publicly available.

The experiment’s findings have been called into question, and the experiment has been criticized for unscientific methodology. Although Zimbardo interpreted the experiment as having shown that the “prison guards” instinctively embraced sadistic and authoritarian behaviours, Zimbardo actually instructed the “guards” to exert psychological control over the “prisoners”. Critics also noted that some of the participants behaved in a way that would help the study, so that, as one “guard” later put it, “the researchers would have something to work with,” which is known as demand characteristics. Variants of the experiment have been performed by other researchers, but none of these attempts have replicated the results of the SPE.

Vaino Vahling

Vaino Vahing (15 February 1940 to 23 March 2008), was an Estonian writer, prosaist, psychiatrist and playwright. Starting from 1973, he was a member of Estonian Writers Union.

Vaino Vahing has written many articles about psychiatry, but also literature – novels, books and plays with psychiatric and autobiographical influence. He has played in several Estonian films.

Book: Models for Mental Disorder: Conceptual Models in Psychiatry

Book Title:

Models for Mental Disorder: Conceptual Models in Psychiatry.

Author(s): Peter Tyrer.

Year: 2013.

Edition: Fifth (5th).

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

Models for Mental Disorder, first published in 1987, anticipated the
move towards integration of psychiatric services into multidisciplinary teams (doctor, psychologist, nurse, social worker, etc) and the need to bring together the different philosophies of mental illness.

Peter Tyrer has identified four different models of mental disorder that are relevant to clinical practice: the disease, psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioural and social models.

Each model is described and reviewed, with reference to case studies and
illustrations, to show how it relates to mental health disorders and can be
used to interpret and manage these disorders.

The book has been widely read and is often used for training purposes so that
each professional can understand and appreciate that differences in viewpoint
are often a consequence of one or more models being used in a different way
rather than a fundamental schism in approach.

Since the fourth edition was published in 2005, the disciplines of mental health
have moved even closer together with the growth of assertive outreach and
more integrated community teams. This, combined with the greater awareness
of mental health among users of services, which leads to more penetrating and
informed questions at interviews with professionals, has emphasized the need
for a wider understanding of these models.

  • The only book to describe the models framing mental health diagnosis and management.
  • A great review for those wanting a better grasp of psychiatric disorders and for integration of concepts for treatment planning.
  • New information on formal classifications of mental disorder.
  • New information on mindfulness and mentalisation regarding the dynamic model.
  • Clearly written in a style which includes some humour and a conversational presentation – a joy to read for the beginner and more experienced practitioner alike.
  • Features a teaching exercise for use when training students in the various models.

On This Day … 18 March

People (Births)

  • 1935 – Frances Cress Welsing, American psychiatrist and author (d. 2016).

People (Deaths)

  • 1980 – Erich Fromm, German psychologist and philosopher (b. 1900).

Frances Cress Welsing

Frances Luella Welsing (née Cress; 18 March 1935 to 02 January 2016) was an American psychiatrist. She has been described by critics as a black supremacist. Her 1970 essay, The Cress Theory of Colour-Confrontation and Racism (White Supremacy), offered her interpretation of what she described as the origins of white supremacy culture.

She was the author of The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colours (1991).

Erich Fromm

Erich Seligmann Fromm (23 March 1900 to 18 March 1980) was a German social psychologist, psychoanalyst, sociologist, humanistic philosopher, and democratic socialist. He was a German Jew who fled the Nazi regime and settled in the US. He was one of the founders of The William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology in New York City and was associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory.

Book: How Can I Help?: A Week in My Life as a Psychiatrist

Book Title:

How Can I Help?: A Week in My Life as a Psychiatrist.

Author(s): David Goldbloom (MD) and Pier Bryden (MD).

Year: 2017.

Edition: First (1st), Canadian Origin Edition.

Publisher: Touchstone.

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

Synopsis:

A humane behind-the-scenes account of a week in the life of a psychiatrist at one of Canada’s leading mental health hospitals. How Can I Help? takes us to the frontlines of modern psychiatric care.

How Can I Help? portrays a week in the life of Dr. David Goldbloom as he treats patients, communicates with families, and trains staff at CAMH, the largest psychiatric facility in Canada. This highly readable and touching behind-the-scenes account of his daily encounters with a wide range of psychiatric concerns – from his own patients and their families to Emergency Department arrivals – puts a human face on an often misunderstood area of medical expertise. From schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder to post-traumatic stress syndrome and autism, How Can I Help? investigates a range of mental issues.

What is it like to work as a psychiatrist now? What are the rewards and challenges? What is the impact of the suffering – and the recovery – of people with mental illness on families and the clinicians who treat them? What does the future hold for psychiatric care?

How Can I Help? demystifies a profession that has undergone profound change over the past twenty-five years, a profession that is often misunderstood by the public and the media, and even by doctors themselves. It offers a compassionate, realistic picture of a branch of medicine that is entering a new phase, as increasingly we are able to decode the mysteries of the brain and offer new hope for sufferers of mental illness.