Chinese Medicine and Mental Illness Part II
Chinese Medicine and Mental Illness II
If psychiatric medications are failing to affect the root causes of mental illness as we have shown in the previous article, how can Chinese Medicine possibly be of help? To start with, there is a fundamental difference between the way that mental illness is viewed from the Western and Eastern perspective. From the Western perspective, mental illness is still primarily thought of as a chemical imbalance in the brain. This is the hypothesis that has been driving the perpetuation of psychiatric medications so pervasively in the west. It would be great if it were actually the case – that a simple chemical imbalance in the brain could be mediated by a medication without altering the overall balance of brain chemistry and the rest of the body negatively – but that appears to be rather naïve and over simplistic at this point.
Again to borrow from Robert Whitaker, “All of this physiology-the 100 billion neurons, the 150 trillion synapses, the various neurotransmitter pathways-tell of a brain that is almost infinitely complex. Yet the chemical imbalance theory of mental disorders boiled this complexity down to a simple disease mechanism, one easy to grasp.” (Anatomy of an Epidemic, Crown Publishing, New York 2010).
It was this simple disease mechanism theory that led to the commercial launch and overwhelming success of Prozac in the late 1980’s. Prozac, an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), was marketed as an effective drug for treating depression, because as they advertised, low levels of seratonin were clinically shown to be responsible for depression. The truth is that most of the research done on seratonin levels and depression failed to show any conclusive evidence whatsoever of a direct correlation between seratonin and depression. Regardless of this lack of evidence and thanks to ingenious marketing campaigns, doctors were soon writing upwards of 600,000 prescriptions for Prozac per month. Also according to Robert Whitaker, Med Watch filings between 1988 and 1997 showed 39,000 complaints about Prozac possibly being associated with suicide, psychosis, mania, hallucinations, hostility, convulsions etc.
In contrast to the still widely believed chemical imbalance theory of mental illness in western medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine has always viewed the physical, mental and emotional aspects of a person as one unified whole. To this day, this difference in philosophy could in fact be considered the main difference between western and eastern philosophy in general. Though it is changing slowly, many western sciences, including western medicine and psychiatry still adhere to models of thought based on Newtonian physiscs. In Newtonian physics the “principle of locality” states that things can only be influenced by variables in their immediate surroundings. It is this kind of simplistic logic that allows for models of disease etiology that are simplified to one dimensional cause and effect scenarios such as the chemical imbalance theory of mental illness. The Chinese Medicine model of mental and emotional health, as we will see in the next article, takes into consideration the health of all of a person’s internal organs, blood circulation, living conditions, level of fitness, diet and other environmental factors.
Traditional Chinese Medical thought, like eastern thought in general, more closely resembles the newer models of quantum physics. All aspects of a person, of a situation, of reality as a whole are known to be interrelated and integrated; with variables too immeasurable to boil down to simple cause and effect models. Without straying too far from our topic and at the risk of sounding “new agey”, this is also one of the draw backs of applying the scientific method to acupuncture experiments. Acupuncture experiments very often have faulty designs and are carried out by scientists just triggering points rather than dedicated doctors of acupuncture. Such scientific experiments fail to measure such variables as dedication, intention, awareness and personal and energetic development in those applying the acupuncture, not to mention the need for varied point prescriptions even amongst study participants with the “same” diagnosis.
Even moreso than the human brain, the universe IS a phenomenon of infinite complexity. As such it is also not to be accurately subjected to simple theories of cause and effect with impunity. Stay tuned for our next article, where we will begin delving more deeply into the TCM models and treatments for mental illness.
Terry M. Chen, Licensed Acupuncturist
Open Sky Acupuncture, Acupuncture Eugene Oregon
Open Sky Acupuncture