Groundbreaking study suggests certain mental disorders are not actually disorders

Recent study critiques the current, mainstream research on mental health.

Biological anthropologists Kristen L. Syme and Edward Hagen have conducted a groundbreaking study where they challenge the existing research on mental health and ask that we rethink several mental disorders. They suggest that certain widespread disorders “are likely not disorders at all”, whereas others may be caused “by genetic variants”, “senescence” and “mismatches between ancestral and modern environments”. 

There has been no progress in decreasing the prevalence of mental illnesses.

Syme and Hagen call into question several points as they explain that “the worldwide prevalence of mental, neurological, and substance abuse disorders, heretofore mental disorders, remained steady between 1990 and 2010″. They argue that the widely held hypothesis that depression – and other mental disorders – are caused by chemical imbalance is false. The authors go on to explain that the fact that drugs that increase monoamine concentrations decrease depressive symptoms does not necessarily mean that depression is caused by monoamine deficiency. They compare this way of thinking with believing that since aspirin reduces headache symptoms then headaches must be caused by aspirin deficiency – this is obviously false. What is more, the study explains that in Australia, the use of antidepressants has increased by over 350% and yet, there is no decrease in mental illnesses. Syme and Hagen therefore highlight the fact that “treating symptoms is not necessarily equivalent to correcting a biological dysfunction”.

What if anxiety, depression and PTSD are not disorders at all?

These three mental disorders are some of the most widely spread mental disorders; however, the study suggests that they are likely not disorders at all. Instead, they can be seen as “aversive yet adaptive responses to adversity”. Furthermore, this suggests that these illnesses can be regarded as social rather than medical issues.

What about autism, schizophrenia, Alzheimers, ADHD and eating disorders?

Syme and Hagen also explore these disorders and suggest that autism and schizophrenia can be seen as stemming from genetic variants, Alzheimers from senescence and ADHD and eating disorders from mismatches between modern and ancestral environments.

Forbes discusses the possibility that ADHD is caused by a mismatch of the human environment as Alison Escalante writes:

In Finland, where substantial physical activity is part of the school day, rates of ADHD are also very low. Meanwhile, in the U.S. children are asked to sit still for the majority of the day. Elementary school students often get only 15-20 minutes of recess a day, a far cry from the 60-90 minutes their parents had. Coincidentally, ADHD rates in the U.S. have gone up over the last 15 years.

This suggests that since the mismatch in the child’s modern and ancestral environment could be responsible for their ADHD, then it must not be a medical disorder. This idea is further supported by Hagen’s claim that “there is little in our evolutionary history that accounts for children sitting at desks quietly while watching a teacher do math equations at a board.” This suggests that in order to help treat ADHD, children’s school environments – instead of their medications – would need to be changed drastically.

Until 1973, homosexuality was seen as a mental disorder.

It is important to note that Syme and Hagen call psychiatry into question and claim that it has been seen as “a social institution that enforces social norms rather than one that treats biological dysfunction“. In other words, the way mental illnesses are treated today works to decrease what is perceived to be socially undesirable behavior. The fact that homosexuality was seen as a mental disorder up until 1973 acts as proof that we should question whether what mainstream research deems as a mental disorder is, in fact, a disorder.

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