The Explosion of Focus on Mental Illness


As is apparent in my previous blogs, there has been a growing visibility accorded mental illness beyond the grievous focus on the mental states of mass shooters.  Just in the past few weeks there have been several books published on the issue, some more scholarly than others.   In Good Reasons for Bad Feelings, Randolph Nesse Dutton has explored the possible evolutionary roots of mental illness.  His point is that being depressed because you cannot achieve a much desired goal may have been nature’s way of preventing people’s wasting energy and hurting their reproductive chances.  I am personally not sold on what seems like a facile argument as certainly being depressed can hurt one’s reproductive chances as well.

In Mind Fixers: Psychiatry’s Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness, Anne Harrington has recounted the rise within the psychiatric profession of the view that mental illnesses are linked to brain biochemistry, neuroanatomy and ultimately genetics.  As she points out there is little evidence linking mental illness to any of these with the result that there is a current crisis in the profession.

In a more popular vein there is Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed which is described in the NYTimes article below.  I think a lot of people do not realize that therapists often have therapists themselves and her sharing of stories of the dynamics of therapy I hope will demystify it for many.

Continuing in the popular vein, Oprah and Prince Harry are teaming up to do a series dealing with mental health.  Prince Harry has himself publicly discussed his own mental health issues surrounding the death of his mother and has been seriously involved in raising awareness.  I know that Oprah’s involvement has been met with skepticism by some who regard her as often promoting “junk science.”  Hopefully, the series relies on evidence-based science, at least what little we actually do know, but having such a high profile involvement may induce more funds for research.  Something which Ms. Harrington’s book indicates we sorely need.



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