“Inflammation might be causing depression”: Stigma of mental illness, reductionism, and (mis-)representations of science
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“Is depression a Kind of Allergic Reaction?” Provocative headlines like these appear throughout popular media. Besides misrepresenting scientific findings, such journalistic coverage impacts perceptions of mental illness, as well as expectations of those seeking treatment. In last month’s Neuroethics in the News talk, Dr. Jennifer Felger, from Emory’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, shared her experiences and insights on the translation (and mistranslation) of research by journalists. In relating the story of her own interactions with the media, Felger emphasized the complex and varying transactional relationships between journalists and scientists. The impact of such coverage carries notable neuroethical dimensions, potentially affecting the capacity for agency and/or aspects of a sense of self for a person experiencing mental illness.
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The particular area of research for Felger and some of her colleagues involved examining the mechanisms of cytokine action on the brain, and determining how cytokine action can lead to specific depressive symptom clusters. Felger’s findings suggest that for patients with increased inflammation (including patients with depression), anti-inflammatory or pro-dopaminergic treatment strategies might target decreased corticostriatal connectivity and improve motivational and motor deficits.
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One example of the stakes of these issues is a piece published by the BBC about three months ago: “Depression: A revolution in treatment?” The article is a relatively standard representation of how the media has covered the topic of links between depression and inflammation, though it is hardly the biggest culprit in terms of misrepresentation or distortion of research findings. Notably, the text of the piece is interrupted with a quiz titled “Could I be depressed?” and a first question, “In the last two weeks: How often have you been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things?” Such interactive features are quite obvious indicators of the readership for such media pieces, and the dangers involved. The disclaimer on the quiz echoes these concerns, “If you are having trouble understanding any of these questions, or at any point you start to feel distressed, please stop and seek the advice of a medical professional. See the links below for organisations that may be able to help you.” Though such disclaimers are included, is it appropriate to be encouraging self-diagnosis through such features?
Want to cite this post?
Kime, KG. (2016). “Inflammation might be causing depression:” Stigma of mental illness, reductionism, and (mis-)representations of science. The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on , from http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2016/12/inflammation-might-be-causing.html