On the Sad State of Mental Illness Knowledge in Britain

by Marvin Ross

What is it with the Brits, or maybe just some of them, that they promote strange theories of mental illness and, in particular, schizophrenia? First we had the very controversial British Psychological Society report Called Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia that generated a great deal of controversy. See the summary of it by James Coyne. Now we have a course being offered by King’s College London for caregivers of people with schizophrenia.

This sounds like a very worthwhile course given by a university that claims to be one of the world’s leading research and teaching universities based in the heart of London”. I was encouraged to sign up for it and did so much to my chagrin. After the introductory explanations of what schizophrenia is, they tell us that trauma is an important cause of this ailment and that this concept is gaining greater interest. The traumatic event they mention first is the loss of a parent either through death or separation. They then suggest that trauma may be associated with the hearing of voices and that the symptoms of schizophrenia may actually be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I looked for references but could find none. As a medical writer I’ve been involved in producing learning materials for doctors and other health care providers and the first rule is that whatever you write has to be evidence based and the evidence must be cited. I recall once being told to find references to prove a statement in a document I was writing on blood pressure that exercise is beneficial.

I left a comment in the King’s College course asking for references but received no reply.

So, lets look at some of the evidence. According to Dr Cheryl Corcoran, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical School, chronic stress may lead to psychotic symptoms (hallucinations, delusions) in the context of PTSD or depression. However, she points out that schizophrenia is more than just those symptoms. Schizophrenia, she says “also includes problems in thinking (concentration, planning, memory, etc.) as well as what are called “negative” symptoms (low motivation, difficulty enjoying things, lack of strong feelings, little emotional expression). Schizophrenia can also include odd and disorganized thinking and behavior. She concludes that there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that stress leads to these other symptoms of schizophrenia.

The National Health Service in the UK also disagrees. They say “some people may be prone to schizophrenia, and a stressful or emotional life event might trigger a psychotic episode. However, it’s not known why some people develop symptoms while others don’t.” They point to a variety of possible causes including genetics, brain development, neurotransmitters, pregnancy and birth complications.

According to the Australians Any evidence that childhood trauma directly causes psychosis or schizophrenia is controversial. Psychotic disorders may be secondary to co-morbid affective ilness, substance use, personality, or post-traumatic stress disorders, all of which have been linked to early trauma and all of which are common in those with a psychotic mental illness. Another difficulty for reporting childhood trauma in adulthood is accurately recalling events, and for some people memory is affected by the psychotic disorder. In other areas of research, such as depression, instruments have been developed which employ strategies to overcome recall problems such as the use of multiple sources of information. To date, these strategies have not been employed in most studies of schizophrenia.”

The number one cause of trauma that the King’s College Course cites is coming from a one parent family. Well, as I’m sure that most people know, this is a growing phenomenon. According to the Child Trend’s Database in the US, the proportion of children living with both parents has been in decline since 1970 and reached 64% in 2014. That means that in the US, 36% of children are in one parent families. This is a trend that is universal in the developed world and yet there is no increase in the number of people who develop schizophrenia. One study conducted in England over the period of 1960 to 2009 concluded that “We found no evidence to support an overall change in the incidence of psychotic disorder over time, though diagnostic shifts (away from schizophrenia) were reported.”

This course also suggests treatment modalities such as Cognitive Behavioural Training for Trauma and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Both are tried as treatments for PTSD and may or may not be effective but they are not a first line for schizophrenia. The other risk factor that is talked about is marijuana use but I suggest taking the course and deciding for yourself how relevant it is.

One psychiatrist to whom I mentioned the emphasis on trauma as a cause of schizophrenia commented that this is both insulting to the families and potentially dangerous. But, let me end by quoting my blogging colleague, Dr David Laing Dawson from his blog called As For Trauma Causing Schizophrenia: No! No! No!

People with psychotic illness do not need someone probing the wells of their psychic discomfort; they do not need (no matter how well-intended) a therapist scouring their childhood memories in search of an unhealed wound. They need support, safety, security, grounding,  and satisfying routine before they can get better. And good medical treatment.”

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23 thoughts on “On the Sad State of Mental Illness Knowledge in Britain

    1. Reading down this column several days later Marvin, I note that one person who is in lecture mode wants many of us to keep an open mind ! Alas we do not want to have such open minds that anything factual might just be lost through the openings.

      I think that your presentation in this article is fair. Much is still to be discovered in order to seriously help people with schizophrenia, major mood disorders and other allied and serious illnesses affecting the mind. Whitakker’s book just adds to confusion and is basically a book of denial about the nature of mental illnesses.

      Sadly neglect is ever present around those whose illnesses are not being tended.

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      1. you are projecting my dear!!! ha ha…

        a lot of help you are going to give by judging others and not asking questions.

        do you seriously think you know better what another feels or experiences and can claim expertise by simply putting stupid titles on it???

        I have met many people of all those lie titles you just named and they are NOTHING like each other… the only way you will ever be able to help is to begin by realizing that you KNOW NOTHING!!!

        sorry if you think I am a lecturer… that is not my style….

        but these ideas are quite hopeless and disparaging!!!

        don’t know why you can’t get the bug to be of help and not to harm!!!

        would be a better world if you could!!!

        I have asked for some evidence for this line of lies

        so far none have been supplied.

        naming something doesn’t make you the expert of it!

        understanding is an altogether Different thing.

        there are many gaining Incredible and Mind blowing Understanding of Themselves…..

        funny thing I guess that happens when they are abandoned.

        P.S. I have heard tell from the experts that even the children of the drug company execs (who know the best about the “cures” that they supply) seek out experts with skills in trauma treatments and the cutting edge of support rather than to put them on their ‘medications’… Psychiatry is not a science it does not offer cures and wherever it exists people statistically are winding up in worse shape than where it hasn’t yet reached or people can afford the treatments… I think you are on the wrong side of right and your wheels are just turning….

        too bad I think that you can’t see that it is your ‘clients’ who are the experts and the best you can do is; listen, care, support and most of all, Stay out of the Way!!!

        Seriously!!!

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      2. and whitaker’s book is not a denial of anything, its an analysis of research, which psychiatry has been epidemic In publishing, then ignoring…. just like its proponents like you!

        first they ignore you, then they ignore you, then they attack you… then they accept your ideas as common knowledge….

        I noticed your not so coded claims that I am an untreated mentally ill person!!

        Ha ha ha…. Wow!!!

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  1. I think the trauma theory is a holdover from the Freudian tendency to blame everything on the mother. I’ve always been skeptical about the idea of stress as the trigger of my psychotic episodes. Sure one can always look back at the onset of an episode and see something stressful that was going on at the time. However, I can also look back at times in my life where I held up quite well under a lot of stress. One can only avoid stress in this world by crawling under a rock or refusing to try to accomplish anything.

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  2. I think your position is very weak and wrong.

    Check again! England has some of the most progressive people working and teaching and showing us that “Schizophrenia” is not the bewildering lost cause kind of disease that we have been led to believe. People are able to learn much and live normal lives whom were believed to suffer from this… You need to pay attention to the teachings formally claimed to suffer this and how they are helping others to be less terrified of their emotional or mental differences… they are adding so much color and tolerance to the world. Check Jacqui Dillon and Peter Bullimore, they travel here to the USA to teach us and we find that you are far more progressive or it is us who would be going to teach there, the innovation is coming out of England not the USA

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    1. I notice that your article Marvin has attracted those associated with the ‘Hearing Voices Network ‘ I think that their interpretations and advise/recommendations are mostly unhelpful for those who are trapped in a psychotic illness. Sadly their movement has taken hold and has mislead some people.

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      1. to the original author I say:

        I see that you attract people who think exactly the same as you, also who are quite confident and bold in opining about things of which they personally know NOTHING.

        Please if you want to write then try to keep an open mind, seek readers who don’t just parrot you blindly.

        The hearing voices movement has been Powerfully Helpful to those who seek autonomy and control over their own lives, self understanding, self acceptance and freedom from oppressive and hopeless psychiatry. The drugs do nothing but cause chronicity (in the majority of cases). Read Robert Whitaker, a local Massachusetts award winning medical journalist author on the stats of the abominable record of traditional psychiatry in treating those claimed to suffer from “Schizophrenia”…

        It has been widely known for some years now that most all “mental illness” is in fact trauma based and most people in psychology or psychiatry who want to be a help and not a hindrance get themselves educated about trauma as this is where the solutions lie in treating this first, rather than pathologizing someone for a life time for a supposed “illness” which is not medically based or based in the brain at all

        If you think otherwise, please provide the Evidence!

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    2. Have you followed any scientific research into serious mental illnesses? That is the way societies have investigated chronic diseases. And that is how we controlled their spread throughout the world and the way a modern informed society has eliminated other cruel human diseases.

      You do not serve humanity by ignoring scientific methodology to find information that can alleviate symptoms and find cures for the myriad diseases of human brains.

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      1. I am responding to June Conway Beeby, she wrote:

        “Have you followed any scientific research into serious mental illnesses? That is the way societies have investigated chronic diseases. And that is how we controlled their spread throughout the world and the way a modern informed society has eliminated other cruel human diseases.

        You do not serve humanity by ignoring scientific methodology to find information that can alleviate symptoms and find cures for the myriad diseases of human brains.”

        Wow! Have You??!!!

        I think it is about time you do!!!

        Read Anatomy of an Epidemic, what America is most responsible for is SPREADING the lies of psychiatry claiming Diseases, thus Creating them, where previously or without them there are None!

        Read the research. LOL.

        Please supply the Evidence please, of the “Diseases” for which you speak!! ha ha ha….

        What is not serving humanity is drugging small infants and children in our countries, in foster care, exporting this nonsense supposed “science” to all corners of the world, when there is NO evidence of organic brain disease, and then acting like it is commonplace knowledge which it isn’t, it is a matter of the fact that you have been deceived, if not, Please Show me some Proof!!!

        This is a situation of the Emperor’s New Clothes and you’ve been taken June Conway Beeby!!!

        I know the sufferers, I was locked up with them myself at 17, I’ve seen my own recovery from steering as clear as I could Away from psychiatry and studying independently and I’ve seen the sad realities from seeing my former friends whom are still enslaved and still their victims, I see and live the difference!

        What we have controlled through study are things through immunizations, etc. You can’t cure these issues through such simple means since they are about social inequities and oppressions, not organic broken organs!!!

        Childhood trauma is the BIGGEST source of the problem!!! Give children some protections and dignity, have a more equitable just and content society and you won’t be seeing adults with serious and persistent emotional or psychological “conditions”!

        Claiming that social problems are individual problems, blaming them on the victim is the biggest racket going, there is no evidence in fundamental brain differences in those whom have been suffered from schizophrenia than those whom have not, this is a made up problem, blaming the victims, not solving any problems, just making it worse.

        Read Anatomy of an Epidemic which overviews all the known research on mental illness treatment and outcomes, written by a medical journalist, award winning, we are ending up with more and more mental illness not less!!!

        There is No good Science in Psychiatry!!! What is there backs up My opinions not Yours!!!

        READ!!!

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      2. hi june I had to reply up here to your comment about the book because I already used up my reply asking you about the book your recommended, but I wanted to add another point or points….

        Nutrition research seems to follow along the same lines that supposed research on the mind or brain seems to be following, we learn things but they don’t enter into the general public understanding, for instance there is a lot of growing research over the optimum health choice of not eating meat or dairy in terms of combatting or reversing disease, staying healthy staying a healthy weight, etc… we know it, the research showed it, yet the people in charge of media and the world don’t seem to want to report it out for mainstream consumption and eventual acceptance… they shy away from it.

        In medical research on psychiatric subjects and medications, the nature of the brain and the mind etc. we learn things they get published but then are ignored, the mainstream does not get taught them, so they can not really accept them… for instance there was research that found mental health recipients are more often the victims of crime then the perpetrators yet the public persists in believing people in this category are dangerous, criminals, etc. Another example is the woeful lack of evidence of a biological basis for the various diagnosis of mental illness (which has been admitted and published In medical journals yet is ignored), rather mental illness is defined by a few people on a panel voting for instance whether three or four of a list of symptoms should be required for the making of a diagnosis, if that is science it is a pretty sad example of it!!!… (read Paula Kaplan who served on that panel at one point…), these are just two examples but surely there are many more and different ones than these in Robert Whittaker’s book…. what do you think of such presentations of evidence against the “science” of psychiatry?

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  3. Interesting responses. I have not association to the Hearing Voices movement but I know that I found my recovery from schizophrenia by understanding what I was experiencing differently-role of trauma. I know I am not the only one in my wider network. I no longer take medications. Yes I take care over my wellbeing and understand my triggers as I can still fall into psychosis but I also understand what it is, am not frightened by it and take steps to get support. I may take meds for a short period to bring a particular experience back to a level i.e. Sleep. It’s about time we also listened to and learn from people who live and have have come through these experiences. Warner and others evidence that the research supports that the majority do recover from schizophrenia over a longer term period. Check out research out today from Anerica (New York Times) on recovery from early intervention in first episode psychosis. I was heavily medication, sectioned under the mental health act ongoing and living in a care home for many years. I now have my own home, a well paid job and most precious of all, my mind and body back from the disabling effects of antipsychotic medication.
    We need to come out of the dark ages and I, for one, am glad that we are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am glad that you are experiencing a good life, but many people who go off stabilizing medications are not. And it is misleading to suggest that abuse has lead to schizophrenia. There is plenty of abuse around no doubt, but it does not cause schizophrenia.

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      1. Patricia you are extremely opinionated. Could you become more open and educated per chance? Have you had experiences with mental emotional differences yourself whatever you want to call it? if not I would suggest that if you want to remain pertinent that you might defer your own opinions for that of your clients or the people who actually Do experience or Have experienced emotional or mental differences. Your statement “off stabilizing medications” is Not held up by the research, looking at the research you will learn that these “medications” are anything but stabilizing, as a matter of fact their uses are most likely to cause chronicity, there is also plenty of research of how the majority of people labeled with schizophrenia before these medications were available were released from hospitals and went on to have normal lives, many having jobs and families, there has been proven to be only a small amount of people whom seem that they might benefit from medications in a long term kind of way. The choices about this, especially when you consider the massive adverse health effects of these drugs must always be with the client as to whether or not they will be used (consider the ACE study and the 25-35 year earlier death of people in this population than the average person).

        Abuse Does lead to schizophrenia not as an automatic thing but that it can. It is not misleading to say this, it is true. Does not mean it is Always the reason why people may suffer but it often is and can be. It is actually very human to have emotional or mental experiences that are pathologized by psychiatry and labeled “schizophrenic”… in actuality a good science would look at things in a more humanizing way and be able to see the logic of all of it. It is too bad psychiatry has the history and current state that it does, it is doing a lot of damage, however even its unwitting victims are finding their way and opening up doors for healing that all are welcome through, recovery can come in many forms and through many pathways, I think you could stand to have a little more respect for sufferers and their way back to health, for me anyway, their stories are amazing and make me proud to be a human.

        hey and by the way, a subject in an FMRI with PTSD is identical to a person with schizophrenia… go figure…. there is so much to learn!!!

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      2. To all: I worked for an ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) team in Atlanta, Georgia for 1 year as a counselor. About 1/2 of the clients had a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Those who were meditation compliant lived independently in group homes, without interactions with police or hospitals. The others had frequent interactions with police and jails, and rarely had stable housing situations. I don’t blame anyone for not taking meds, as those who did seemed to sleep 1/2 their life away, and strongly believe the mentally ill and their families need more options and services available. I favor early intervention and some means of committing people to secured environments so they don’t become homeless.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Renee we must agree to disagree. I read the literature carefully and I am in no way beholden to Big Pharma and some of its bad practices. But you seem not to be observing a very sad situation which is occurring because of under treatment .e.g the numbers of seriously ill people in the justice system and those neglected people on our streets. And so we must agree to disagree.

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    1. Well that sounds a lot better than before but are you sure you are attributing the problems you are seeing to the right thing? People are also getting more impoverished by the day… who are you calling “seriously ill”? If you take away the poverty you take away a lot of problems, if you have a society that does not exclude people by calling them by hopeless names like “schizophrenic” you end up with a very different story. I say, keep reading… There is so much information out there. I know that if I personally had left myself in doctors hands I would have surely been doomed. Does dying 25 years younger (on average) then non labeled people mean anything in terms of a right to find REAL Cure, a cure that is permanent and healthy? People are getting cured… I don’t know what the need is for psychiatry. It is there so if people want it they can use it, but the best bet for them is to use medications very, very much as a last choice and at the lowest dose for the shortest time and again, only if Nothing else works!… People find that having good friends, community, work, meaning, healthy food, exercise, good sleep, all these things tend to be more influential for health than medications, even if meds (drugs) could possibly be used for a short term to get them to be able to use these things and get to healing… other things people use, groups, dbt, cbt, counseling, spirituality, applying intelligence, family… different things work for different people but I do think we need to disagree if you think that small pharma (?) is going to solve the problems that you are seeing, it is not a “fix” or a cure!!! At best the drugs mask things, typically, in my opinion people are trying to work something out in which they need to create a global new organization to cope and grow in a world that wasn’t what they were prepared for it to be… we are interrupting individual processes that are helpful and necessary out of fear and ignorance…. if we had safe places for people to break down and work things out (of which there are a growing few) we would not have chronic and persistent “mental illnesses” these are a result not of individual’s problems or biological deficiencies (like I say if you think it is then Prove it!) but are the result of social injustices and lack of cohesion and proper responsibility, shared responsibilities.

      Yes we can disagree, but you say you aren’t into big pharma but still said the answer is people getting on “stabilizing medications” so you think individuals should continue to be treated for what is essentially social issues untreated??? So what if the canary in the coalmine drops dead from the contaminated air right? If we don’t stop the bodies from coming downstream where are all going to be done very soon.

      We have choices to continue to see people’s emotional distress in isolation or we can see it as a symptom of a diseased society, fix the society the people will be fine, they do not need medications, if it gets them through the day, fine, but it is not a proper life choice and does nothing to solve the bigger issues. We all share them!

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      1. Renee, with respect I have read your recommended book. I hope you will also read one that I suggest:

        Science writer Jay Ingram’s “Fatal Flaws: How a Misfolded Protein Baffled Scientists and Changed the Way We Look at the Brain”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. ok thank you June, did you already dismiss the book I recommended? what was your take away?

        what is this book you have recommended, what does it teach?….

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    2. it’s just how do they have you convinced that people in the “justice” system (more like “Just Us!”) are there because they aren’t “medicated” instead of the truth that they are there because there is no justice…??? How do they have you thinking the solution to what you are observing “neglected people on the streets” is because the people that are there are biologically “ill” as opposed to fundamentally impoverished and discriminated against, denied access to inclusion, work, homes, equality?… The examples you give are more likely from poverty and social injustice than from people that are fundamentally broken. Do you really think that psychiatry has discovered magic pills that will be able to cure people of homelessness and having to get pushed through the American “Just Us” system??? Psychiatry is just part of the problem seeking to silence people, deny them a voice and shut them up, and very effective it is at that, the only people you are aware of that are “suffering” are the ones that get pushed out the bottom and are stuck living on the street or being placed in jails. I don’t think they are suffering biological problems, I think it is clear social injustice.

      The problems these people are having and describe are about being made invisible by the lies of psychiatry, and finding their voice again, and regaining membership in a society that still needs a lot of work!!! It’s our society that needs fixing not the few individuals that find the compiled effects of it temporarily or permenantly intolerable! they are just the canaries in the coalmine, giving us the warnings… we are in trouble.

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    1. mine is informed, experientially and for over 30 years from the inside out,

      I would suggest that forming opinions from the outside looking down on other people as separate and different from yourselves is not the way to go. If you don’t even have a sense for or respect for the foreign others experience then maybe you are not the best one for judging them and deciding what is best, maybe they are the best judges for themselves and deserve to be heard and listened to! there is A LOT of knowledge help and wisdom coming out from this very oppressed group!

      where do you get your opinions from?

      Like

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