Yesterday, for no particular reason, The Boston Globe published one of those stories we see at least once or twice every year — we are on the verge of unraveling the genetics of mental illness.
Sadly, the article provides no more detail as to why we’re on the verge yet again, a verge we’ve been on for the past, I don’t know, 20 years?
Most genetics research into mental illness shows a very, very complex picture that indicts hundreds of mutations and variations on dozens of genes.
And, carrying on the misinformation and stigma of mental illness, the article is written by Carey Goldberg from a purely biological point of view, completely ignoring the psychological and social causes of mental disorders:
The potential payoffs are great, Scolnick and other researchers say. Psychiatry is all but unique in medicine in its utter lack of chemical or biological tests to determine what a patient has.
Sorry Carey, but we already have tests for mental disorders that are effective and proven with decades worth of research. A 5 minute Beck Depression Inventory, for instance, can reliably determine the presence and severity of depression in a person. Yes, it’s not a blood test, but is that any reason to discount and suggest it is less scientific than a blood test?
I get depressed reading articles like this, because it reinforces a frustrating and incorrect message to people — mental illness is a poorly understood area of medicine and only medicine has the key to unlocking the answers. And it suggests that gene research is making leaping strides in recent years, when the opposite is still true (as the article itself notes, at the very end!):
But the hot-spot findings dominate so far, Sebat said. The fact that they tend to involve relatively rare mutations has some people discouraged, he said; they are asking, “If every family is defective in its own way, how are you going to be able to treat a disorder that has hundreds of different causes?”
Indeed, especially if you look to one lone field of science to provide you with all the answers.
While genetics may very well prove to be an important part to understanding those answers, the prior decades’ worth of research in this area has proven largely fruitless. It cannot be the sole answer, and we can’t keep turning to genetics as though it will offer us a magic bullet someday. It hasn’t and it likely never will.
Read the full article: Genetics sheds light on mental illnesses