Thoughts on Psychology

Rejecting over-simplistic views of mental health

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A couple of interesting articles from the Guardian about issues in mental health. As you might expect from me, the interest is not only in what they say about mental health per se, but also in what they say about wider issues in psychology.

In an article on schizophrenia in black britons, Kwame McKenzie talks about the increased incidence of schizophrenia in afro-caribbean groups in British society:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/apr/02/comment.health
Particularly interesting is his observation that comparative rates of incidence of schizophrenia between black and white groups in Britain aren’t reflected in other cultural settings. I.e., in a predominantly white British culture, members of afro-caribbean groups are far more likely to be diagnosed as schizophrenic than members of white groups; and this difference is specific to the British cultural setting, as opposed to say african or caribbean settings. This suggests that there’s something about British culture that leads to the difference in incidence rates, further suggesting both that simplistic claims for a causative biological basis for schizophrenia are misplaced; and that psychology as a discipline is wrong to ignore cultural factors in the illness. The author is a psychiatrist, and as such treats the diagnosis of mental health problems as unproblematic: there’s a whole separate debate as to the extent to which schizophrenia is a culturally specific diagnosis; and the extent to which predominantly white psychiatrists can unproblematically diagnose mental illness in other cultural groups. I’ll leave that for now though. (This is touched on in some of the comments on the article. In general though, the comments vary greatly in the extent to which they’re worth reading. I wouldn’t bother.)

The more interesting article, for me at least, discusses increasing rates of depression in Western society:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2007/apr/02/healthandwellbeing.books
The take home messages here are about depression as a culturally caused illness; and about possible remedies that aren’t addressed by modern psychology. (Indeed, that are discounted as part of the medicalisation of psychological conditions in modern Western society.) There are very interesting insights about how psychological states in individuals arise from the organisations of cultures and societies. More to the point, again for those who’ve heard me banging on in the past, is the observation about the changing notion of the self from the 16th century onwards. See, it’s not just me 😉

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