Psychologists argue mental illness mostly caused by life events – not genetics
An article in The Telegraph has revealed that mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are largely brought on by life events rather than genetics, and more funding should be provided to discovering their true cause.
Psychologists have warned that too much money is being spent on researching genetic and biological factors that may cause mental illness, when they are largely brought on by life traumas such as unemployment, relationship problems and abuse.
In the last ten years, funding bodies such as the Medical Research Council (MRC) have spent hundreds of millions on determining the biology behind mental illness. But although there has been some progress in uncovering specific genes which make people more susceptible to a number of disorders, specialists have emphasised that the true causes of depression and anxiety are social, and that research should be directed towards understanding the everyday triggers instead.
Nature Vs Nurture
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Peter Kinderman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Liverpool, said: ““Of course every single action, every emotion I’ve ever had involves the brain, so to have a piece of scientific research telling us that the brain is involved in responding emotionally to events doesn’t really advance our understanding very much.
“And yet it detracts from the fact that when unemployment rates go up in a particular locality you get a measurable number of suicides. It detracts from the idea that trauma in childhood is a very, very powerful predictor of serious problems like experiencing psychotic events in adult life, so of course the brain is involved and of course genes are involved, but not very much, and an excessive focus on [genetics] takes us away from very important social factors.”
Almost half of adults will suffer from a mental health condition at some point in their life – most commonly depression. The UK now has the seventh highest prescription rate for antidepressants in the Western world, with around four million Britons taking them each year – twice as many as a decade ago.
Yet the MRC spends only 3% of its budget funding studies into mental illness, the vast majority of which goes towards funding genetics or neuroscience, rather than towards understanding psychological mechanisms or social circumstances which cause these problems to develop. Professor Richard Bentall, also of Liverpool University, told the programme: “It’s impossible to get funding to look at these kinds of things.”
The MRC has responded by saying that it is currently refreshing its strategic plan, with the aim to increase the amount of money allocated to mental health studies. Dr Rob Buckle, Head of Regenerative Medicine at MRC, said: “The issue here is that mental health is a very complex issue and the fundamental thing is to get a better understanding of the causes and progression of mental illness.
“We would like to spend more of our budget on mental health research and […] we do fund work around social impacts on mental health.”
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