Latimer: Taking the guesswork out of mental health

Thanks to today’s…knowledge…we now have more opportunity to pinpoint what is happening within the brain to cause specific symptoms.

In an effort to shift research goals in psychiatry, the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) will soon only be funding studies that aim to learn more about the neurobiological underpinnings of disorders.

Until the technological advances of recent years, psychiatric research and treatment has relied very heavily on alleviating symptoms in the absence of much concrete evidence about exactly how the brain works.

Thanks to today’s imaging techniques and a growing body of knowledge about the structure and function of the brain, we now have more opportunity to pinpoint what is happening within the brain to cause specific symptoms.

NIMH funds about $100 million in mental health research per year. Last year, more than half of those grants were given to studies with no requirement to examine biological processes.

One NIMH director believes this means there is nothing learned when a particular treatment fails – what results is a waste of time and funds.

To remedy this problem, NIMH has now declared future grants will be based on an experimental medicine approach.

This means studies funded by NIMH will have to do more than simply aim to alleviate symptoms.

In addition, they should also be working to glean more information about biological or neurological factors underlying disorders.

This is an important move and it signals a shift in thinking about psychiatry.

It is time for mental health to be treated just as physical health – not as an abstract subject shrouded in clinical guesswork, but as a scientific discipline focused on affecting specific changes in the brain.

This change will likely result in some backlash and perhaps concern about existing patients and our need to help them while we continue to seek out causes and mechanisms for each condition.

Continuing to provide new treatments that do work to alleviate symptoms is still important.

While I certainly agree we need to put patient needs first, I also strongly believe that it is possible to learn the biological mechanisms for psychiatric conditions and that doing so will lead to much more effective solutions in the long term.

Once we learn the subtle differences between different types of depression, anxiety or other conditions, we will be able to develop treatments targeted to specific biological traits.

These will likely be more effective at symptoms relief, will probably mean fewer unwanted side effects and will also take out the clinical guesswork involved in determining which medication will work best for an individual patient.

I think this move by the NIMH is a good one and I look forward to seeing what kinds of advances are made in our understanding of the human brain as a result.

Just Posted

Severe thunderstorm watch issued for the Okanagan

Possible rainfall rates of up to 25 milimetres in one hour.

STEM summer camps focus on math, science learning

Programs offered at UBCO campus encourage hands-on fun

Futures court stars make stop in Kelowna

Kelowna Futures Tennis Tournament goes June 25 to July 1 at Parkinson Rec Centre courts

Blasting warning for West Kelowna

West Kelowna permit issued for blasting to start this week

Glenrosa residents asked to secure garbage

WildSafeB.C. issues warning about bears

VIDEO: Vernon-area students read for rank

RCMP visited JW Inglis on Wednesday as part of the Read with Me and the RCMP program.

Pippins halt Falcons’ winning streak at 3

YAKIMA, WA. – The Kelowna Falcons had their three-game West Coast League… Continue reading

FIFA World Cup weekly roundup

Host nation Russia remains unbeaten in Group A, tied with Uruguay

Star Gazing: Using a large telescope

Ken Tapping, astronomer with the National Research Council’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory

Trudeau says he can’t imagine Trump damaging U.S. by imposing auto tariffs

New tariffs on Canadian autos entering the U.S. would amount to a self-inflicted wound on the U.S. economy

Temperature records broken across B.C., again

The first heat wave of the season went out with a bang across the province

Canada’s first national accessibility law tabled in Ottawa

The introduction of the Accessible Canada Act marked a key step towards greater inclusion

Police chief calls for mass casualty plan in Saskatchewan after Broncos crash

Former Saskatoon police chief Clive Weighill said the office was tasked with creating such a plan 13 years ago but none exists

U.S. schools mum on ties to doc in sex abuse inquiry

A now-dead doctor accused of sexual misconduct acted as a team physician at other universities

Most Read