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The Shortcomings of Mental Illness Research
2017-07-27 19:11:05
Michael Fox

[메디컬리포트=Michael Fox 기자]

Photo by: Wikimedia Commons

It has become increasingly common in pop culture, ostensibly following the lead of evolving academic criticisms, to check privilege.In academia, this has manifested in the proliferation of studies concentrated on marginalized groups from various perspectives throughout the humanities and social sciences.Feminism, Africana studies, Latina studies, indigenous and Native American scholarship, queer studies, post-colonial criticism and a bevy of other veins of social theory.These areas exemplify the progress of scholarly focus in that they, first, began with white men in many cases at the center of analysis but have come to be progressed by the marginalized groups themselves.

In light of all the disciplines in which the disprivileged populations study and analyze their own plights in their own voices, psychology is a field that remains perturbingly behind in that there are still far too many contexts in which the perspectives of the groups being study are not taken into consideration or used in the process of analysis.One of the areas where this exception is particularly detrimental is with regard to the general and very broad affliction of mental illness and all that it entails.

Hugh Cook poses the fundamental question in the context of research in the field of psychology, “Why aren’t we using the perspectives of those who experience mental illnesses when they are clearly unique and valuable?” Cook teaches mental health studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.State-operated institutions hearken to psychiatric policy and research conducted by the scholars employed by academic institutions where emic perspectives are scarcely involved, which may very well highlight the significance of direct experiences for people diagnosed with mental illness.

At present, “Current policy emphasizes placing individuals in mental hospitals involuntarily if they are evaluated as a danger to themselves or others.The main law determining whether someone qualifies for involuntary commitment or not in California is the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act,” Cook explains. “Despite the fact that some laws exist to protect patients from unnecessary seclusion and the use of forceful restraint, many people experience traumatic and harmful events when institutionalized.Often alternative methods of treatment can more adequately serve their needs and address their health issues and protect them from carceral and unnecessary institutionalization.

“Yet the experiences of those who have been through these systems are rarely taken into account inside or outside the classroom, despite evidence that treatment is most successful when the victim’s right to self-determination is recognized.There are no mental health studies, no major academic fields recognizing the value of the knowledge and the perspective of the disabled or mentally ill.Psychology remains a field in which outsiders—with little to no experience with the phenomena they study and diagnose—control the discourse surrounding and directing the field in its research and methods.Without the input of those experiencing mental illness, psychology will always ignore the knowledge of a critically informed group,” says Cook.

The observations that Cook makes about the nature of research in psychology suggest that there is a great deal more to be done to truly capitalize on the research opportunities available.Many would subjectively argue that various conversations about race, gender, sex, marital status, provenance, class and a plethora of other statuses and qualifiers have evolved to more effective and worthwhile stages than where they once were mere decades ago.

The very nature of progressivism is such that ideas are embraced that push the envelope on controversial matters of old, continually building upon state-of-the-art criticisms, and a significant boon to this in many fields has been observed in the aftermath of shifting analytical perspective to that of those being scrutinized.This disadvantages psychology by increasing the possibility of the field relying on inconsistent data and information.It’s really the veracity and precision of psychological research that Cook calls into question.


A Carnegie Mellon researcher, Charles Kesler, was surprised to find that the rate of hospitalizations for mental health care rose consistently for two decades straight in lieu of national policy supposedly pushing deinstitutionalization.Kesler conducted a review of 10 comprehensive studies that arbitrarily categorize people with detrimental mental issues to hospitalization or some alternative treatment method.All the studies he examined showed patients engaging in alternative methods had the best success rate.

Those who completed alternative treatments were statistically more probable to finish school, positive psychological evaluations thereafter and more likely to achieve gainful employment.They were also found to be, on average, more likely to successfully negotiate independent living in an organized manner.Kessler said in his review, “In aggregate, the studies provide clear evidence of the self-perpetuation of hospitalization in mental patients.Hospitalized patients were more likely to be readmitted to the hospital than were alternative care patients ever to be admitted.Implications for non-institutionalization as public policy seem clear.”

Self-care is irrefutably requisite for marginalized groups upon whose inalienable rights healthcare systems infringe by forcibly committing patients to psychiatric wards.Audre Lorde, Black author and pioneer feminist, said once, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

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