Thursday, February 25, 2010

EZ Reads 2/25

  • A fascinating (albeit very long) piece in The New Yorker by Gary Greenberg on psychiatry that delves deeply into many of the key issues, including whether the key issues are just made up or exaggerated by a profitable industry. Excerpt:



    In “The Loss of Sadness” (2007), Wakefield and Allan Horwitz, a sociologist at Rutgers, argue that the increase in the number of people who are given a diagnosis of depression suggests that what has changed is not the number of people who are clinically depressed but the definition of depression, which has been defined in a way that includes normal sadness. In the case of a patient who exhibits the required number of symptoms, the D.S.M. specifies only one exception to a diagnosis of depression: bereavement. But, Wakefield and Horwitz point out, there are many other life problems for which intense sadness is a natural response—being laid off, for example. There is nothing in the D.S.M. to prevent a physician from labelling someone who is living through one of these problems mentally disordered. The conversion of stuff that people used to live with into disorders that physicians can treat is not limited to psychiatry, of course. Once, people had heartburn (“I can’t believe I ate the whole thing”) and bought Alka-Seltzer over the counter; now they are given a diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease (“Ask your doctor whether you might be suffering from GERD”) and are written a prescription for Zantac. But people tend to find the medicalization of mood and personality more distressing. It has been claimed, for example, that up to 18.7 per cent of Americans suffer from social-anxiety disorder. In “Shyness” (2007), Christopher Lane, a professor of English at Northwestern, argues that this is a blatant pathologization of a common personality trait for the financial benefit of the psychiatric profession and the pharmaceutical industry. It’s a case of what David Healy, in his invaluable history “The Antidepressant Era” (1997), calls “the pharmacological scalpel”: if a drug (in this case, Paxil) proves to change something in patients (shyness), then that something becomes a disorder to be treated (social anxiety). The discovery of the remedy creates the disease.
  • An interesting piece on Freakonomics about a family who pretends to be Christian for social reasons. Feel free to make analogies to Purim on one end and living in a frum community on the other...
  • Sometimes, I really want to do something like this.

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