June 23, 2005

Call Me Crazy

What's wrong with America? New studies say better than half of us are now, or have been mentally ill.

...psychiatric epidemiologists from the Harvard Medical School have published studies purporting to demonstrate that some 55 percent of Americans suffer from mental illness in their lifetime. These studies--which cost $20 million, most of it out of the taxpayer's pocket--are based on a survey of 9,282 randomly selected English-speaking subjects over the age of 18 who were seen in their homes by technicians trained to ask specific questions about symptoms believed to indicate mental illnesses.

The main problem with the study, according to Paul McHugh, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, is that you can't make a diagnosis from a checklist of symptoms:

The survey technicians were instructed to fill in a questionnaire by asking the subjects about mental symptoms such as depression and anxiety that they might have experienced in their lives. Such technicians, sticking to the prescribed inventory, essentially act as secretaries, recording what people say they recall from their past. The techs gather no sense of the persons they are meeting--no appreciation of their life circumstances, the issues they have dealt with, what strengths they brought to bear, or what vulnerabilities they overcame, in dealing with the good and bad fortune life brought them. The individual's family, social circumstances, temperament, character, opportunities, successes, and disappointments are all outside the attention of these interrogators.

Instead, the technicians run down their checklist of symptoms with no thought to causes, simply recording a yes or no answer to each. This is not a psychiatric examination; it is barely a census.

If simple "anxiety" is one of the telling symptoms, I'm surprised the study's percentage of the "mentally ill" wasn't higher. Interesting read.

Posted by dan at June 23, 2005 1:42 PM