For decades now the failure to find any meaningful biological and genetic markers for a vast majority of mental health problems had not provided a barrier to the opulent funding that such genetic and neuroscientific approaches enjoyed. The fact that the funding panels for mental health research were crammed to the rafters with neuroscientists, geneticists, medics and biologists paradoxically didn't prevent these approaches getting funding - many fair minded observers had thought that the expertise available in these panels would enable them to see immediately that such research approaches were both flawed and unproductive - but strange as it may seem, this expected insight never materialized until the panel’s public statement today.
This crisis is particularly devastating for neuroscientists who have spent decades searching fruitlessly for brain markers indicative of specific mental health symptoms. But fMRI scanners are expensive kit, and a complex and involved social life usually develops among the large number of people required to operate, maintain and analyse data from scanning studies. The panel admitted that it could not summarily cut funding from these groups because such research had provided employment for thousands of semi-skilled workers and would have a catastrophic impact on the 'scanners' social network that provides after-work drinking companions, cake on birthdays, baby sitters for nights at the opera, and innumerable opportunities for potential sexual liaisons that never happen. The panel have indicated that they are willing to introduce a fully funded 'cooling off' period of up to 50 years, where neuroscience labs can wind down their activities by switching their attention to searching for mental health biological markers that may exist in parts of the body other than the brain and central nervous system - such as the feet or the esophagus - areas that have not previously been explored as centres of potential interest in the diagnosis of mental health problems such as OCD or dissociative symptoms.
The chair of the panel was asked whether the trillions of dollars of funding that goes to neuroscience and genetic research into mental health will now trickle down to other more valuable forms of research into mental health problems. “No,” he replied, “many of our researchers have vested interests in medical approaches to explaining human behaviour, and we could not allow that historical dominance to be eroded. Instead we will be shifting much of this money towards genetic and neuroscience research into IQ – a topic that will convince many that genetics and neuroscience has a useful role to play in understanding important aspects of human behaviour … oh well, okay, it probably won’t convince many.”
A prominent geneticist on the panel said much of the money previously spent on researching genetic markers for mental health problems would now be invested in a longer-term project designed to ensure that the entire population of the world could experience identical levels of stress and live in equivalent socio-economic conditions. He explained that this was not out of philanthropic altruism, but so that we could then be sure that genetics predicted 100% of the variance in mental health symptoms - a truly imaginative way of ensuring that genetic research would capture all the monies available for mental health research and protect the discipline from the obscurity of a misguided and antiquated approach to understanding the complexities of modern day mental health problems.
Hardest hit by this monumental decision by the panel will be the medics, physicians and general medical practitioners - all of whom have relied on their medical research colleagues to provide a complex, jargonised, impenetrable medical facade that allows them to tell the one in three of the patients entering their surgeries with mental health problems that they are 'ill', need some 'interim' medication, have overactive nerves in their stomach, or would benefit from a brief course of electroconvulsive therapy. While the transition to more sensible ways of understanding mental health problems is in progress, doctors have been advised to write to their local medical schools asking why proper training in mental health problems is only provided as an afterthought at the end of modules on complementary medicine, homeopathy, and D100 Introduction to Cranial Bumps.
So where does the demise of biological approaches to mental health problems leave us? As you can see, while influential advocates of the biological and genetic approaches are skeptical of the value of their disciplines’ contributions to understanding mental health problems, such people are also imaginative in defence of their skills and financial interests. Although we can now say that those who support such simplistic approaches to mental health problems are no longer ‘in denial’ as a result of this public statement, we can be sure that ‘flat earthers’ will always find ways to propagate their beliefs! A full draft of the panel's report can be found here.