The Puzzle of Mental Illness: Is It Just Chemistry?
When I first began my career in psychiatry, the field took a sharp turn. Imagine a detective following a trail, then suddenly finding a new clue that changes everything. By the 1980s, new medications had emerged, leading many to believe that mental illnesses were mainly about “chemical imbalances” in the brain or risks passed down in our genes.
Searching for a Genetic Answer?
Imagine researchers as treasure hunters, diving deep into our DNA, hoping to find clues about mental illnesses. A big project at Harvard even studied over a million genetic codes! But, so far, no clear ‘treasure’ or genetic cause for major mental illnesses has been found. Some experts wonder if we need better tools or approaches. Perhaps mental illnesses aren’t just about our genes, but also about how the experience of our emotions, as Freud emphasized, play a role, in combination with our brain biology.
Mental Illness: The Roaring Sound of Emotion
Think of emotions as music. Sometimes, they play softly in the background, like a gentle melody, and at other times, they’re a roaring rock concert, hard to ignore. Now, have you ever been to an event where the microphone produces a loud, uncomfortable screeching sound? That’s called feedback. Just like that screech can take over a room, overpowering all other sounds, intense emotions in mental illnesses can overshadow our normal thoughts.
In the world of sound, feedback happens when a microphone picks up the sound from a speaker and amplifies it over and over again, getting louder each time. It becomes a loop that keeps intensifying until it’s the only thing you can hear. Similarly, in our minds, when a certain emotion or thought gets repeated and intensified, it can create a ‘mental loop.’ This loop can get stronger and dominate our thinking, making it hard to focus on anything else. Just as the feedback screech in a sound system can be jarring, these amplified emotions or thoughts can be overwhelming and hard to control. This is what happens in severe mental illnesses – the emotional ‘feedback’ becomes too much to handle.