Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In Sickness and in Health – What Jewish Law Can Say about Psychology and Psychiatry

By Rabbi Ira Bedzow, MA

Rabbi Ira Bedzow
Rabbi Ira Bedzow is a 2013 recipient of the Emory Center for Ethics Neuroethics Travel Award. He is the project director for Moral Education research project for the TAG Institute, and is currently pursuing his PhD in Religion at Emory University.

While it is obvious that the term "insanity" expresses the value judgments of a society's legal system, psychology and psychiatry also accept social mores as a guideline for determining mental illness and health, even when their practitioners deny doing so.  For example, according to the DSM-5, mental illness is diagnosed by dysfunctional behavior (though some psychiatrists are pushing for a biological categorization of mental illness) and thus assumes social or cultural norms by which to interpret behavior in order to determine whether it is dysfunctional or not.  Because insanity and mental illness are both predicated on social norms, they are by definition determined by society's ethical posture.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

About the Physiological Society of Japan Ethics Symposium

By Tamami Fukushi, Ph.D

Tamami Fukushi is a Senior Research Scientist at the Platform for the Realization of Regenerative Medicine at the Foundation for Biomedical Research and Innovation in Kobe, Japan and a member of the AJOB Neuroscience editorial board. Her research focuses on areas in neuroethics, neurophysiology, and the regulation and ethics of stem cell research.

At every annual meeting since 2003, the Physiological Society of Japan has scheduled a research ethics symposium, usually dealing with animal experiments and research misconduct. One purpose of the symposia has been to raise audience awareness regarding current ethical issues in neuroscience research. In addition, the symposia have sought to open their audience’s eyes to taking action regarding ethical practices in their daily research activities.

This year, the society took up ethical issues in neuroscience. The symposium was organized by Dr. Kiyoshi Kurata, the society’s Chief of Research Ethics Committee, and Dr. Atsushi Iriki, the Editor-in-Chief of Neuroscience Research, which is published as the official journal of the Japan Neuroscience Society.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Robots: the Answer for Treating Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

By Guest Contributor Irina Lucaciu, Emory University  

A smile appears on Jack’s face as the robot he is playing with congratulates him for accomplishing a task. Aiden seems captivated by the moving arms of Nao, a robot that has become his new playmate. Thousands of miles away, in London, a copy of Nao sits in the middle of a circle of five boys no more than 10 years old, encouraging them to imitate his movements, touch his hands, and try to identify the feelings he is describing.

When asked how the robot makes him feel and why, one of the boys replies that he is happy because the robot feels happy too.

However, Nao and the other robots are not simply toys, and neither are Jack, Aiden, and the five British boys simply children at play. They have autism spectrum disorder, and Nao is acting as a treatment tool for improving their life experience and helping them develop socially-relevant skills. Above are described the results of robot-assisted therapy [1, 3, 9, 13].

What is autism spectrum disorder, and why would the use of robots benefit those who have it?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

We’re All Mad Here

In the early 1970’s, eight people checked themselves into psychiatric hospitals throughout the United States, complaining of hearing voices. They were all admitted, and during their hospitalizations exhibited no unusual behavior and claimed to no longer be experiencing auditory hallucinations. After stays between 7 and 52 days in the institutions, the patients were discharged and given diagnoses of either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. None of these people had any mental illnesses, and had, in fact, falsified their symptoms as part of an experiment conducted by psychologist David Rosenhan (who was himself one of the “pseudopatients”).

The results of the study were published in a 1973 paper in Science titled “On being sane in insane places”. In the paper Rosenhan argues that it is difficult to distinguish between “normality” and “abnormality” when it comes to mental health, and that, once applied, the label of a psychiatric diagnosis can be so strong that all of an individual’s actions are viewed in light of that label, especially in a place like a psychiatric hospital where patients are assumed to be “insane”. The study was seen as an eye-opening commentary on the American mental health system and also criticized for its methodology and conclusions.1,2

The founders of The Icarus Project believe that, just like Icarus' wings, "madness" can lift people to great heights but also send them falling to their doom.
Thirty years later, the study is still cited in debates about the science and ethics of psychiatric diagnoses and treatments, often by those critical of the field. One interesting and controversial voice active in this debate is the mad pride movement.3 In my previous post, I discussed the neurodiversity movement’s views on autism. Mad pride (which has recently been discussed on this blog) takes a similar approach to issues of mental health. Like neurodiversity (and most movements and ideologies in general) mad pride encompasses a wide variety of beliefs and causes, but the primary one is to give a voice to people living with mental illness (although some in the movement dislike that term 4) in the hopes of educating the public, creating patient-run communities and support networks, and pushing for reform in mental health systems.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Creative Balance

When it comes to creativity, one might most readily think of children. The young, innocent imagination is a great conduit for idea generation. Or perhaps the term calls to mind an image of a prolific artist who could be well described by the term "eccentric." Generally speaking though, the thought of creativity may not be immediately associated with mental illness.

However there are mental illnesses that lend towards greater creativity, and some have believed that there are medicines which reduce creativity. Does our chemical attempt to monitor distraction and promote productive behavior tamper who we are at an essential level? Do the aspiring artsy-fartsy need to have some form of ADHD, bipolar disorder, psychosis, frontotemporal dementia, temporal lobe epilepsy, or depression in order to succeed? Are these types of illnesses part of our personhood makeup and consequently deserve to be embraced instead of adjusted? Perhaps a fine line can be drawn outlining what types of actions should be taken regarding mental health, creativity, and the value we place on humans in general.