My Experience Only. YMMV.

The Scientific Tease

Fun doctor

I know the headlines and accompanying news stories are supposed to give us hope: New Treatments for Mentally Ill, Scientific Advances for PTSD Suffers, How Research Is Finding Causes – and Possible Cures – for Bipolar Disorder, Brain Science May Explain OCD.

But the reality is that those headlines are teasers. Once you read the story, you realize how little is new, how far from reality the science is, and how long it will be until the supposed cures make any difference.

I’ve written on the subject before (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-7Z), and included a link to a short video that explains the scientific process, from original study up to the time when a new drug or treatment hits the market (http://www.vocativ.com/culture/junk-science/).

But drugs aren’t all the scientific world is offering for people with bipolar and other mental disorders. There are transcranial stimulators, magnets, fMRI, and other technologies that hold promise for at least understanding our illnesses and, in some cases, treating them. Studies of the human brain, DNA, epigenetics, neurotransmitters, precursor chemicals, and more are touted as ways to unravel the mysteries of why some people get mental illnesses and some don’t; why some medications work for some people and not for others; and how the medications that actually do work do what they do.

If you are buoyed by the hope these scientific articles and the advances they hold out, you may envision a world in which parents can tell when a baby is liable to depression and watch for early signs; a troubled teen can be diagnosed with bipolar 1, 2, or psychotic bipolar; which particular “cocktail” of drugs is the best fit for an individual; how a small machine can send signals to the brain that will ease the symptoms of, well, anything.

Unfortunately, that’s not true. Oh, there is scientific research going on – although there would be more if funding for mental health issues were taken more seriously. But not all that research will result in effective, practical treatments for mental illness – more closely targeted drugs, new understandings of various psychological models, new methods of diagnosis. A breakthrough, when it comes, may even be discovered as an unexpected side effect of something else entirely.

Besides, can you imagine these wonder drugs and diagnostic tools, and nanobot treatments (or whatever) making it to the vast majority of the mentally ill? Will psychologists be able to send clients to get an fMRI to pinpoint problems, and will the insurance pay for that? How would you convince a homeless schizophrenic to place his head in that clanking machine, hold still for half an hour, and answer question? How long will it take the FDA to study and approve a new drug, and will it cost $12,000 or more per year? And will insurance coverage even be available because it’s still considered “experimental”?

Frankly, I can’t see most of these heralded miracle treatments making their way down to the community mental health center level anytime soon, even once they’ve been developed, tested, proven, and put on the market. Like so much of medicine, I fear psychiatric advances will be available only to the rich or those with platinum-level insurance. And although one in four Americans will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetimes – and millions more friends, relatives, caregivers, and loved ones will be affected by it as well, psychiatric topics don’t draw government or university funding or charitable support the way other conditions like HIV, breast cancer, and heart disease do.

So forgive me if I see those uplifting headlines and think, “Pfft. More pie in the sky.” I do think progress is being made and will continue to be made, but I doubt whether it will be soon enough, or tested enough, or cheap enough, or available enough to benefit me. You younger folks, now – you may still reap the benefits of these remarkable advances. But in the meantime, while you’re waiting for that magic pill or Star Trek device, keep on taking the meds you’ve been prescribed, and talking to your psychotherapist, and building a support system, and taking care of yourself.

For now, let’s work with what we’ve got.

Comments on: "The Scientific Tease" (6)

  1. I agree completely. A bit downbeat, but accurate. Talking about a ” small machine can send signals to the brain that will ease the symptoms” highlights the comment about it being declared “experimental”. My wife had a VNS (Vagus Nerve Stimulator) implanted in 2006. It sends a small current to her brain every 3 minutes and has really helped her treatment resistant bipolar. But you are right, they soon declared it “experimental” even though it’s FDA approved and helped many people back when insurance paid for it. I detest health insurance companies.

    BTW, when I try the Tweet button I get this:

    Account suspended
    This account has been suspended. Learn more about why Twitter suspends accounts, or return to your timeline.

    I Tweeted it manually, so no real problem, just thought you might want to know. I’m not sure what can be done about it…

    Liked by 1 person

    • The downbeat-ness may be as much due to this depressive episode I’ve been stuck in as the subject matter. I hope your wife is doing better and the insurance mess gets straightened out some year.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I just checked and the Tweet link works on my blog, so it must not be a WordPress specific problem…

    Like

  3. I agree. Although there are some recent findings that look promising for some people, you have to be able to afford it. My insurance pays for very little but it does help a lot with my meds– very little for my doctors, and nothing for my psychiatrist and therapist. My husband wanted me to try TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) because it worked so well for an acquaintance of his who also has bipolar. It’s too costly and my insurance won’t pay. I wish they would pay for or at least help with the cost of the non-drug options. Although the meds have stabilized my mood swings, they are negatively impacting my health. I’m sure there are many other people out there with the same dilemma.

    Liked by 1 person

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