Despite being relatively young, psychiatry is well present in today’s society, especially in the form of pharmacological treatments to treat mental disorders. In fact, it is so young that to this day there are still those who question it as a science.
Those who criticize it consider that it does not have a well-defined object of study, arguing that if psychiatry studies the brain, then it should be a branch of neurology; and if what it studies is the mind, then it is a specialty of psychology.
Leaving aside the debate around it, we can comment some curiosities of psychiatryboth its historical background and anecdotes and facts from its more modern side.
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8 curiosities of Psychiatry (explained)
Psychiatry is a specialty of medicine but one that has earned its independence hard. This discipline is responsible for the prevention, evaluation, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of people with mental disorders, with the objective of improving their state of health and ensuring that patients can enjoy a better quality of life. Given its object of study and intervention, it is impossible not to relate it to neurology, psychology, biology and medicine in general.
There are many myths, anecdotes and facts that revolve around psychiatry, various curiosities that we are going to discover below.
1. Diabolical possessions and deregulation of body fluids
Many of the curiosities of psychiatry have to do with its history and the way in which disorders have been viewed over time. For a long time, mental disorders were attributed a supernatural origin., being seen as the consequence of the action of an evil force. This belief was especially painful for both those who suffered from the disorder and their families, who believed that the evil had trapped them and had no chance to escape from it.
The classical Greeks, who had a more global idea of health, did not think this way. In Ancient Greece, the body and mind were seen as a unit, something inseparable, and therefore they interpreted any anomaly as an imbalance in the body, whether physical or mental.
This is what Galen thought, who defended that mental disorders were the result of fluid deregulation, considering that mania was caused by alterations in yellow bile and that melancholy, or modern depression, was due to black bile.
During the Middle Ages, it was thought that mental disorders were the product of diabolical possessions.. On the other hand, on the other side of the pond, in pre-Columbian America a different perspective was taken of psychic alterations, something that survives today in several native cultures of the continent where anomalous behavior is seen as a kind of sign of divinity. magical.
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2. The Ship of Fools
It is not known if it is a myth or reality, but there is a legend that says that, before modern psychiatry and long before people with mental disorders were seen in the West for what they are, people, society had a particular way of “solving” the psychological problems of its citizens.
People with mental disorders, far from being well treated or hospitalized somewhere to recover, were put on ships that have been called “crazy ships.” This practice It consisted of forcibly embarking people with mental disorders, making them set sail and never allowing them to set foot on dry land again..
Those who did not get on that gloomy ship did not have much better luck. Many of them were tied and chained in stables or in some place separated from the rest of society, places where they received humiliation and mistreatment if they caused problems. And to top all the horrors, When they died they were not buried in common cemeteries, since it was believed that their body was possessed and the best thing was to incinerate them.
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3. A chimpanzee and thousands of lobotomized brains
One of the most surprising anecdotes in the history of psychiatry involves a chimpanzee, brains and a Nobel Prize winner.
Lobotomy is one of the most controversial practices in psychiatry, consisting of removing areas of the brain in order to “cure” mental disorders.
Its inventor was the Portuguese António Egas Moniz, Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, who discovered this technique practicing with a chimpanzee, just one. Mr. Moniz had nothing better one day than to take a chimpanzee and remove parts of its brain, to see what would happen.
Based on a single experiment and not even on human beings, a whole new technique would emerge that would be applied to hundreds of patients.changing their lives forever, in many cases for the worse.
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4. Unknown biological cause
At the moment, there is no medical clinical test of mental disorders, that is, there is no blood test nor is it possible to open someone’s skull and discover which area of their brain is altered and, from that, establish the diagnosis of schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder. Mental disorders are detected based on behavior, speech, perception and symptoms reported by the patient, not on biomarkers..
In fact, the reason we call depression or schizophrenia “disorders” and not “diseases” is that there is no unequivocal biological cause that causes these disorders, unlike diseases such as cancer (spread of tumors). , the COVID-19 disease (homonymous virus) or tonsillitis (tonsillar inflammation) in which an unknown but obvious biological cause is known or attributed.
5. Electroconvulsive therapy still exists
Many, when they hear the word “psychiatry”, the first thing they think of is electroconvulsive therapy, also known as electroshock.. It is a scary word, which is perceived as threatening because it plays with something as potentially dangerous as electric current. When we hear it, images come to mind of patients tied to chairs and with teethers in their mouths while they convulse spasmodically.
Well, that type of electroshock existed, but it is part of the past. However, electroconvulsive therapy still exists and it is not at all how it is portrayed in Hollywood: There are no twitches, convulsions or tremors, just a person receiving a small electrical current in a controlled manner, to strategically change the functioning of some part of their brain.
This type of therapy is used for very serious cases of severe depression, where the patient is not even able to get out of bed or clean up on his or her own. It is also used in cases of refractory schizophrenia, when drug treatment has not worked. Whatever the disorder for which it is used, the therapy is applied in a hospital and requires general anesthesia, which means that the patient does not notice anything.
It should be said that, although today it is much milder and more controlled than it was in the past, it does not mean that it does not have side effects. Its main risk is long-term memory loss, although this occurs in less than 1% of cases..
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6. Transcranial magnetic stimulation
Although it has been approved since 2008 in the United States for the treatment of depression, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) remains largely unknown even within psychiatry.
Starting from biological perspectives, the brain of a person with depression would have a lower proportion of certain neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin), which imply less brain activation in depending on which areas, especially those responsible for the mood.
Taking this into account, The objective of TMS is to activate these areas, make them form more connections between them and thus reduce the symptoms..
Neurons are electrochemical cells, which implies that the use of drugs stimulates and grows them chemically while transcranial magnetic stimulation does so electrically.
In this type of stimulation, magnets, similar to those used in an MRI, are used to produce electromagnetic currents to concentrate energy in the area of the brain that controls the limbic systemthe part of our brain in charge of our emotions.
In contrast to drugs, which enter our bloodstream and have the ability to produce effects throughout our entire body, TMS has the advantage of being applied only to the specific part of the brain responsible for depression. Thanks to this, this type of therapy is a good alternative for cases in which the use of medication may be worrying, as would be the case of antidepressants in pregnant women.
Unlike the old electroconvulsive therapy, TMS does not require anesthesia nor does it pose a risk to memorysince the magnetic currents applied in this therapy do not alter the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is believed to be responsible for the formation of new memories.
Furthermore, unlike other psychiatric therapies, TMS is not a lifelong treatment, although it is intensive. Patients to whom it is applied must attend therapy for about 5 days each week for a period of 4 to 6 weeks, with significant improvements starting from the third week.
- Related article: “Transcranial magnetic stimulation: types and uses in therapy”
7. Why do some people abandon their medication?
One of the most frequently heard questions regarding pharmacological treatments in psychiatry is why there are certain people who abandon their medication. Don’t they want to be better? Do the medicines make you feel bad? Is it a symptom of your disorder?
Although there would be many explanations behind this, each one different for each type of patient, the truth is that we can summarize them in two everyday situations.
What I am going to say may shock many, but not in all mental disorders the person feels “bad.” In fact, You may feel so “good” that you want to be that way forever.. We have an example in bipolar disorder, whose name used in the past suggests what happens to these patients: manic depression; There are moments of high that are the mania phase, and other moments of depression that are the depressive phase.
On the one hand, no one wants to manifest the negative symptoms of bipolar disorder such as depression, psychotic breaks, paranoia, hallucinations, and irritability. On the other hand, the patient experiences the manic phase, a period in which he feels like he is going to take on the world. He feels energetic, little fatigued, climbing the hill of the emotional roller coaster so high that he believes he can handle absolutely everything.
It is due to the effects of the manic phase, that emotional high that the patient experiences, the person may reach the biased conclusion that these “positive” symptoms far outweigh the unwanted effects of the negative ones, and therefore decide to abandon the medication. When they are in the manic phase they feel that they can do everything, that they can be very productive and active people. and that they will know how to take advantage of what they believe to be an advantage of the disorder.
But they still need to take the medication, since their symptoms are not positive no matter how you look at it. To begin with, in the manic phase they can engage in very harmful behaviors such as taking drugs, driving recklessly or losing control over themselves.
Added to this, the next phase, that of depression, can be so extremely deep and desperate that the patient ends his life or, in the mildest cases, does absolutely nothing for a while, unable to get out of bed.
The other explanation of why there are people who abandon medication It has to do with the side effects. It is no secret that all medications have adverse effects, problems that may stop appearing the moment the patient stops taking the drugs.
This causes some patients to decide to abandon the medication for fear of experiencing side effects, even though the therapeutic effects, that is, the benefits, outweigh the drawbacks.
8. Mindfulness and psychiatry
It is no secret that Mindfulness is especially valued in psychology, becoming very popular in the last decade.
Mindfulness is a good tool to help patients, especially people with anxiety disorders, manage their daily lives. However, despite what one might think, This type of therapeutic approach has been gaining a place in psychiatrybecoming so important that there are even psychiatrists who consider giving up drugs to treat.
Mindfulness is based on self-awareness and meditation, techniques that are known to have served millions of people in Asia well. Now, the Western world is introducing them into its clinical practice and addresses them scientifically, as evidenced by the many studies that have pointed out the benefits of the techniques on which mindfulness is based.