Mind Matters – The confusion of diagnosis

A recent study on the biological mechanisms of psychiatric disorders has revealed that schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder and major depression share several biological mechanisms.

The study attracted 60,000 participants and was a collaboration between hundreds of scientists from UCLA, King’s College London, Cardiff University, Harvard and MIT working together under the umbrella of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium.

The PGC conducts research on genetic factors of psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder, major depression, autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders.

The researchers identified two biological and biochemical pathways that act as a risk factor for the (above listed) disorders. Genes associated with the development of these disorders are those relating to immune function and histone methylation, the process of altering the DNA expression on genes by molecular changes.

This study shows that there is little that we know about psychiatric disorders. Maybe we can even go as far as to say that the classification of those disorders is somewhat superficial and hard to determine. Yet, scientists have created certain criteria that a patient has to fit in order to be diagnosed with a certain disorder.

The obvious challenge here is the prescriptive nature of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Often times a patient is misdiagnosed because they don’t fit a certain criteria. However, the expression of symptoms of various disorders differs between individuals and those symptoms don’t necessarily fit into a rigid criteria template. Some psychiatrists wrongly see the DSM as the bible of mental disorder, forgetting that it is not descriptive of what is going on around them and that the DSM can only try to put into words what is happening to people.

Relating this to the study, the question still stands on how the participants were diagnosed with their respective disorders. There is little evidence on the possibility of distinguishing between those disorders on the basis of blood tests or brain scans. The researchers could have potentially looked at participants that in fact suffered from one common disorder, rather than from a variety of disorders. Also, the healthy control participants could have easily suffered from an undiagnosed mental disorder.

It is clear that psychiatric disorders are still relatively enigmatic to the scientific community, let alone the general population. In a world of increasing stress and turmoil, it is evident that support and compassion for people suffering from psychiatric disorders is imperative in local communities and indeed nationwide.

If you have concerns about yourself or a friend, be sure to speak to a member of LUU Mind Matters, the mental health society promoting mental well-being on campus, offering a range of activities and support services for those with mental health problems.

Feature Image: Kelly Angard

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