Posted by SLS on July 30, 2003, at 7:02:57
In reply to Would like everyone's opinion...., posted by john Henry on July 30, 2003, at 6:47:42
BIOLOGY OR PSYCHOLOGY?
The best answer to this question may be “either and both”.
Many of us here have been diagnosed as having a mental illness.
Mental illnesses are not mental weaknesses. The diagnoses that we
are most familiar with include:
1. Major Depression (Unipolar Depression)
2. Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression)
3. Dysthymia (Minor Depression)
4. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
6. Schizoaffective Disorder
7. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
8. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
9. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
10. Panic Disorder
All of these disorders have one thing in common. They are not our
fault. Each disorder has both biological and psychological
components. We all begin our lives with a brain that is built
using the blueprints contained within the genes we inherit from
our parents. Later, hormones change the brain to prepare it for
adulthood. It is continually being changed by the things we
experience. The brain determines the mind as the mind sculpts the
brain. Unfortunately, the brain can also be changed in negative
ways by things such as drugs, alcohol, injury, and chronic
How we think and feel are influenced by our environment. Probably
the most important environment during our development is that of
the family, with the most important time being our childhood. We
all have both positive and negative experiences as we travel
through life. How we are as adults is in large part determined by
these positive and negative experiences. They affect our
psychology, our emotions, and our behaviors. All of us can be
hurt by unhealthy negative experiences.
Some of us are also hurt by unhealthy brains. Medical science has
long recognized that many mental illnesses are actually
biological disorders. Even Sigmund Freud, who we know for his
development of psychoanalysis, proposed a role for biology in
mental illness. He was, after all, a neurologist. The first solid
evidence for this concept in modern times came with the discovery
of lithium in 1947. Lithium was found to cause the symptoms of
bipolar disorder (manic-depression) to disappear completely,
allowing previously disabled people to lead normal lives. Lithium
helps to correct for the abnormal neurotransmission in the brain
that is the cause of bipolar disorder. Subsequent medical
discoveries included the observations that the drug, Thorazine
(an antipsychotic), successfully treated schizophrenia, and that
Tofranil (an antidepressant) successfully treated depression.
Again, these drugs help to correct for the abnormal biology of
the brain that accompanies these disorders.
What about psychology? What role does it play in mental illness?
This can be a
two-way street. The abnormal biology that occurs with some
mental illnesses affects our psychology – how we think, feel, and
behave. On the other hand, our psychology can also affect our
biology. As we now know, the emotional stresses and traumas we
experience change the way our brains operate. This is especially
true of things we experience during childhood. These stresses can
trigger the induction of abnormal brain function that leads to
major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other
major mental illnesses. In order for this to happen, however,
there must be a genetic or some other biological vulnerability to
Unfortunately, there are still too many people who cannot bring
themselves to believe that the most common mental illnesses are
actually brain disorders. However, the vast majority of our top
researchers in psychiatry and neuroscience do.
The National Institutes of Health, the federal government’s
official repository of medical research, has made available to
the public free publications describing the current research into
psychiatric disorders. They include descriptions of the
biological and psychological aspects of major mental illness.
Each press release and research publication begins by stating
emphatically that these are indeed brain disorders.
NIMH Public Inquiries
6001 Executive Boulevard, Rm. 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663 U.S.A.
Voice (301) 443-4513; Fax (301) 443-4279
TTY (301) 443-8431
It is important to remember that not all psychological and
emotional difficulties are biological in origin. Again, we are
all products of our environments – family, friends, enemies,
school, work, culture, climate, love, war, etc. Environments that
are unhealthy often produce unhealthy people. However, this, too,
is not our fault.
In conclusion, regardless of the cause of our mental illnesses,
it is important that we treat both the biological and the
psychological. We will all benefit most if we do.