Three interesting articles


FT weekend – Matthew Engle – Why it’s time to end the war on drugs
31 July 2009

Guardian Comment is Free  – Richard Bentall- Diagnoses are psychiatry’s star signs.  Let’s do more and drug people less
31 August 2009

and response:

Guardian Comment is Free – Tom Burns – Psychiatry may be imprecise – but don’t call it astrology
3 September 2009

Actually,  here’s a fourth one:

Observer Magazine – Simon Garfield – Porn addicts, sex offenders, rapists, paedophiles
23 November 2008

Psychiatry bites 17 June 2009

There a debate held by Intelligence Squared tonight Psychotherapy has done more harm than goodLord Layard and Jeffrey Masson were talking about it on Today this morning.  Both presented arguments lacking in nuance to my mind.  It’s sold out, but I probably wouldn’t have gone anyway as tickets were £25 (grumble, grumble acting to keep knowledge the preserve of privileged elites… – if anyone is going or downloads the mp3 from iTunes please let me know if it was any good)

This article The woman who hates food is interesting.  MeMe Roth President of the National Campaign Against Obesity appears to have an abnormal relationship with food.  Her parents used to be fat and on the day of the interview she’s not eaten anything and it’s 1530.  I’m not good at defence mechanisms – projection or projective identification?

Psychiatry Bites 3 March 2009

Sarah, who writes the Hard-to-swallow blog has asked me to mention the following report on the experience of patients with eating disorders:

Eating disorder charity b-eat kicked off this years Eating Disorders Awareness Week by publishing a report looking at how people affected by eating disorders are treated by their GPs. Out of the 1,500 people surveyed, only 15% felt that their GP understood eating disorders and knew how to help them.

The Mental Health Foundation’s website, covers the findings very well

You can also find more details on Sarah’s blog

(I’ve just realised that my usual psychiatry bites picture doesn’t sit very well with this item please forgive)


At the Wellcome Trust in London there’s an exhibition of the work of Bobby Baker Mental illness and me 1997-2008 which opens mid-March.  There are also a number of mental health themed talks. 

Bobby Baker’s website


Via the book Bedlam: London and its mad by Catherine Arnold I have discovered this rather super mental health history timeline by Andrew Roberts.  Mr Roberts has also written a history of the Lunacy Commission, which helped establish mental health leglisation during the 19th century, which by this own admission took him an impressive 31 years.

Psychiatry bites – 20 February 2009

Last night I went to a lecture on Brain Fag Syndrome. BFS is a so called culture bound syndrome which, it is generally held, was initially described in 1960 in Nigeria.  The syndrome is characterised by unpleasant sensory disturbances around the head and neck, which appear or become more intense when the patient attempts to study, affecting concentration, under standing and retention. Further efforts to study aggravate the somatic symptoms, which in turn further impair intellectual activity.

Reservations about validity of Brain Fag as a diagnostic criteria aside (including why western psychiatric conditions should be considered any more solid than those of other cultures), last night’s genuine revelation was that the presenter, in an impressive feat of scholarship, has turned the history of Brain Fag on its head having found references to ‘Brain Fag’ in the British Press as early as the 1880s, and also in the press of North America and India between the 1880s and 1940s.

It’s difficult to imagine why no one should have spotted this before, but does remind me of the tendency for diseases not be named after those that first described them.  For example in the UK Graves’ disease, a thyroid disorder, is named after Robert Graves who discribed goitre with exophthalmos in 1935 however this was first described in Italy in 1802


Novelist Tom Wolfe, author of seminal books, The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test and Bonfire of the Vanities, wrote an article in 1996 on neuroscience: Sorry, but your soul just died.  I read it first in 1997 or so and was mightly impressed.  I’ve just re-read it and it’s an engaging mish-mash of ideas;  his predictions for 2006 are off the mark, being as he predicts that the digital revolution will be overshadowed by one of neuroscience.  I like the two paragraphs with which he signs off:

Recently I happened to be talking to a prominent California geologist, and she told me: “When I first went into geology, we all thought that in science you create a solid layer of findings, through experiment and careful investigation, and then you add a second layer, like a second layer of bricks, all very carefully, and so on. Occasionally some adventurous scientist stacks the bricks up in towers, and these towers turn out to be insubstantial and they get torn down, and you proceed again with the careful layers. But we now realize that the very first layers aren’t even resting on solid ground. They are balanced on bubbles, on concepts that are full of air, and those bubbles are being burst today, one after the other.”

I suddenly had a picture of the entire astonishing edifice collapsing and modern man plunging headlong back into the primordial ooze. He’s floundering, sloshing about, gulping for air, frantically treading ooze, when he feels something huge and smooth swim beneath him and boost him up, like some almighty dolphin. He can’t see it, but he’s much impressed. He names it God.

Psychiatry bites February 13 2009

IoP Supremo Professor Robin Murray is giving a lecture at Gresham Collge, Holborn this coming Wednesday 18th entitled Are normal people sane?  I’ve heard Professor Murray talk a few times and he’s a very good orator.  This is part of a series of psychiatry lectures, previous ones of which have been streamed.  Worth a look is Professor Simon Wessely’s lecture Shock or Cowardice: The Case of Harry Farr


In the past I’ve read and enjoyed several of Alain de Botton’s books.  For those of you that haven’t heard of him he’s a sort of peddler of lightweight intellectual self help.  But I found myself perusing his website today and unfortuntely he’s dived in my estimations.  With some like minded people de Botton has set up a institution called the School of Life, which offers courses on interesting things.  So far, so good, but they’ve also got a psychotherapy division about which they have to say:

For the normally reserved British, it [School of Life] must be a first to have an institution that offers therapy from an ordinary high street location and moreover, treats the idea of having therapy as no more or less strange than having a haircut or pedicure, and perhaps a good deal more useful.

The idea that seeking professional psychotherapeutic help for any and all of life’s ills is so oft repeated that is has an empirical force.  But imagine for a moment that instead of reading about the UK you were reading about a strange and foreign land where whenever a tribesperson has a difficulty of any sort they paid hundreds of hard to come by shiny pebbles in order to talk to a stranger for one hour, once a week.

Psychiatry bites: The Peter Principle and State of Mind

This week I’ve been learning about the Peter Principle which is, shortly stated:

Anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails

Or in an organisation:

In a hierarchically structured administration, people tend to be promoted up to their level of incompetence

Read more: How stuff works


There’s an interesting programme on Radio 4 this week

Here’s the blurb:

Claudia Hammond charts the development of mental health care in the UK from the 1950s until today, to ask where we are now, and where we’re going. Will the stigma of mental illness ever be entirely removed?

Programmes are:

Altered states
Total institution