Thursday, 5 September 2013

Is Life a Disease?


Anne Cooke and John McGowan

The DSM makes a handy lectern
Photo: Maciej Janowicz
As regular readers of this blog know, we are very interested in the pros and cons of psychiatric diagnosis. We try to discuss this issue in an accessible way and reach as broad an audience as possible. It was a great pleasure, therefore, to be invited by Lewes Skeptics (a Sussex branch of the Skeptics in the Pub network) to give a talk about mental illness, diagnosis, and some of the controversies raised by the new version of the psychiatric classification manual DSM-5. We've since been asked to make the talk available more widely, so we've posted it below. It's a video of the slides, accompanied by a soundtrack recorded on the night.

It was interesting to see that the event sold out in a few days. Since we’re hardly big names, we hope this says something about the level of public interest in mental health. The same happened the last time that the Skeptics put on a mental health-related talk (by psychiatrist Joanna Moncrieff), so something clearly strikes a chord. On the night of our talk the room was jammed, the temperature was hot and the controversy even hotter! Actually that last bit isn’t true. The debate was conducted in the most civil and decorous manner - not always easy when passions on this topic can run high.

We’d like to thank Lewes Skeptics (and in particular Eugene Gill) for hosting the event, and for their commitment to promoting public engagement with important topics. If you want to know more follow them @LewesSkeptics on Twitter. We are also grateful to John Warburton man of many parts, two of which were his very strong forearms. The fortitude with which he acted as a human boom for the recording equipment was admirable. Thanks also to the audience. The pub patrons of Lewes are clearly a thoughtful lot.


You can view the video either in the embedded version below or via the direct link on YouTube





There is also a recording of the discussion following the talk. The quality is slightly more variable as questioners were sitting in different parts of the room. The Q&A audio is embedded below or you can listen to it directly on Sound Cloud.



1 comment:

  1. This is a really interesting debate. I have read Mary Boyle's book 'Schizophrena: A Scientific Delusion?' - it unpacks the 'science' behind 'schizophrenia' and shows it to be very thin indeed. I am sure that most people who receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia have had really difficult and distressing experiences but I also think that labelling their experience as a brain disease is completely the wrong thing to do if we wish to help people in their distress. This diagnosis often seems to be accompanied by being told 'You will never get better.' Thus people are told that they have an incurable brain disease. The drugs can be worse than the problems people came with. This does not help them to work out what has happened and how to move on from it. We need much more recognition of the stresses and strains and the psychological traumas that happen - the bad stuff that happens to people - rather than just assuming there is something wrong with their brain when we have no evidence for it. Hearing voices, for example, is NOT evidence that your brain is diseased. It seems likely to be a normal reaction to abnormal stresses. Yes, in poisoning or physical illness that affect the brain people might hear voices - but we also hear voices when there is nothing physically wrong - as a way of our mind-brain dealing with stresses. When that happens we need calm people around us who give us time to work through the crisis. I admit to never having received a schizophrenia diagnosis but I have had a diagnosis and I understand the power of doctors and the medical establishment to tell you what you are or what you should be. It is not always helpful...

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