Monitor on Psychology - June 2012 - (Page 30)

SCIENCE WATCH The roots of mental illness How much of mental illness can the biology of the brain explain? BY KI RSTEN W EI R D iagnosing mental illness isn’t like diagnosing other chronic diseases. Heart disease is identified with the help of blood tests and electrocardiograms. Diabetes is diagnosed by measuring blood glucose levels. But classifying mental illness is a more subjective endeavor. No blood test exists for depression; no X-ray can identify a child at risk of developing bipolar disorder. At least, not yet. Thanks to new tools in genetics and neuroimaging, scientists are making progress toward deciphering details of the underlying biology of mental disorders. Yet experts disagree on how far we can push this biological model. Are mental illnesses simply physical diseases that happen to strike the brain? Or do these disorders belong to a class all their own? Eric Kandel, MD, a Nobel Prize laureate and professor of brain science at Columbia University, believes it’s all about biology. “All mental processes are brain processes, and therefore all disorders of mental functioning are biological diseases,” he says. “The brain is the organ of the mind. Where else could [mental illness] be if not in the brain?” That viewpoint is quickly gaining supporters, thanks in part to Thomas R. Insel, MD, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, who has championed a biological perspective during his tenure at the agency. To Insel, mental illnesses are no different from heart disease, diabetes or any other chronic illness. All chronic diseases have behavioral components as well as biological components, he says. “The only difference here is that the organ of interest is the brain instead of the heart or pancreas. But the same basic principles apply.” A new toolkit Take cardiology, Insel says. A century ago, doctors had little knowledge of the biological basis of heart disease. They could merely observe a patient’s physical presentation and listen to the patient’s subjective complaints. Today they can measure cholesterol levels, examine the heart’s electrical impulses with

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Monitor on Psychology - June 2012

Monitor on Psychology - June 2012
President’s column
From the CEO
Give an Hour founder is one of Time magazine’s ‘most influential’
APA treatment guidelines panels are being formed
APA supports ‘Speak Up For Kids’
In Brief
Time Capsule
Random Sample
Judicial Notebook
APA honors Howell
Science Watch
Science Directions
What you should know about online education
Speaking of Education
Psychologist Profile
Redefining masculinity
Miscarriage and loss
Something for everyone
Candidates weigh in
Division Spotlight
American Psychological Foundation

Monitor on Psychology - June 2012