Psychiatric Disorders Are Increasing

Psychiatric Disorders Are Increasing

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Psychiatric disorders such as Autism, Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are on the increase. It's happening across the globe but nowhere the growth is as dramatic as in the U.S.

Some say there is no actual increase in the incidence of these disorders, just that professionals are getting better in identifying them and people are more actively seeking treatment. However, the steady and significant increase in these disorders in the last few years cannot be entirely explained by increased public and professional awareness. What is going on?

In the year 2003, there was a heated debate in the scientific world triggered by a research study, which led to a Senate hearing. The U.S Senate heard the argument that increase of Autism might be linked in someway to the MMR, (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) shots our children get in the early childhood. That theory has recently come under a cloud of suspicion due to an undisclosed conflict of interest, which opponents say might have influenced the results.

The jury is still out on the question of MMR and Autism. But, why should there be an increase in other disorders such as Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Tourette Disorder? Tourette Disorder, not so well known as the former, involves involuntary motor and speech tics.

Is there a common feature in these disorders, which is particularly under attack by some toxins, viruses, bacteria or some other harmful substance?

It sounds odd for a psychologist to even raise the question. How could the mental disorders be caused by something as physical as the toxic environment or a noxious substance or organism? But in the light of advances made in the understanding of brain during the "Decade of the Brain" (the last decade of the 20th century) such a question is in order.

All these disorders may be present at the time of the birth. Nonetheless, they may unfold later. As the child grows and the stress and demands increase, symptoms are likely to escalate. Or, the child may become too disruptive, aggressive or out of control. A significant number of patients inherit them, which indicates a strong genetic factor. They are almost always life-long conditions. The disorders, however, are apparent in childhood to a discerning eye.

These disorders, some say might not be "mental disorders" per se, but, in fact, "brain disorders." They may result from an immature or insufficiently developed brain. The deficit may be particularly in parts of brain that are responsible for the ability to control and regulate actions and emotions and to communicate and relate to others.

Whoa! That's a lot said in one sentence! Let me explain. The ability to control and regulate attention, actions and emotions require that you be able to observe, monitor and organize yourself in order to act upon your environment and interact with others. To put it in other words, through self-observation and monitoring, we take decisions regarding what we should do more of or less of, or stop ourselves from doing something altogether.

When we pay attention to something, we focus on that particular thing and we control our attention from shifting to other things. We can choose to ignore or focus on a given object or topic. Our decision is based on our will and intention. We are not likely to be distracted if we don't want to be.

Likewise; when we interact with others, we observe ourselves and others and say and do things based on our observations. For example, if we observe from others' facial expression and body language that they want to interrupt or don't like what we are saying, we immediately tone down our words or refrain from saying something altogether.

In still another example, someone says something infuriating, but we keep our emotions under check. We may feel like choking them, but we don't. We may even express our wish to choke them silently in our head but we don't erupt in anger or blurt out something totally inappropriate. We choose our words carefully. These examples apply to us if we have developed internal speech and the faculty of self-observation and reflection.

Higher mental functions such as emotional regulation, self-direction (attention), self-control and self-observation are performed mainly by the frontal lobe of the brain. The frontal lobe is the CEO of the "Brain Corporation." But, in order to do its job, the CEO needs the right assistance at the right time promptly and efficiently from the corporate departments; notably, from Speech and Communication, Motor and Emotions. If there is a problem with these departments, the CEO can't perform its executive functions of monitoring, directing and controlling various operations.

All the disorders discussed in this article may result from a minor or major problem somewhere in the command chain, from the secretaries, departmental "heads" and right up to the CEO.

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Copyright 2004, Mind Publications 
Posted June 2004


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