When the breakthrough is expected remains under debate in the medical science community.
Though I am a former mental health professional with training in psychology, I am neither a scientist nor a doctor and I offer no medical advice or diagnosis herein. Please contact a currently practicing medical or mental health professional for any potential issue related to this article that requires attention.
Sources for this article include Wikipedia.org, The New York Times, the American Psychiatric Association, WebMD.com, and the Society of Clinical Psychology.
The treatment of mental illness is popularly the purview of psychologists and psychiatrists. However, throughout recorded history studies of the human brain have also led to theories of biological “cures” playing a strong role in one’s mental health.
See comprehensive Wikipedia page here on the concept of biological psychiatry, which states: Biological psychiatry or biopsychiatry is an approach to psychiatry that aims to understand mental disorder in terms of the biological function of the nervous system. It is interdisciplinary in its approach and draws on sciences such as neuroscience, psychopharmacology, biochemistry, genetics, epigenetics and physiology to investigate the biological bases of behavior and psychopathology.
The page goes on to acknowledge that biopsychiatry overlaps at points with the field of neurology, which focuses on disorders where gross or visible pathology of the nervous system is apparent.
For further Wikipedia pages detailing other biologically-related treatments for mental illness, see here for Electroconvulsive Therapy (shock therapy), and here for a general history of mental health disorders and their therapies.
Today, broader biological-based treatments are receiving renewed attention. As psychiatrists and medical doctors prescribe drugs that alter brain chemistry, it has been widely noted the role of biology in these matters has, in the long-term, been considered by such professionals as indisputable.
Let us explore further.
A November, 2018 article in the New York Times, written by Benedict Carey and entitled “When Will We Solve Mental Illness?” addresses the fact that such biological aspects of the mental health profession have been studied for years:
As excerpted from the article: The arrival of biological psychiatry, in the past few decades, was expected to clarify matters, by detailing how abnormalities in the brain gave rise to all variety of mental distress. But that goal hasn’t been achieved — nor is it likely to be, in this lifetime. Still, the futility of the effort promises to inspire a change in the culture of behavioral science in the coming decades. The way forward will require a closer collaboration between scientists and the individuals they’re trying to understand, a mutual endeavor based on a shared appreciation of where the science stands, and why it hasn’t progressed further.
For perspective, an archived June, 2012 article published on the American Psychiatric Association (APA) website, “The Roots of Mental Illness“ by Kirsten Weir, elucidates then-recent progress: Thanks to new tools in genetics and neuroimaging, scientists are making progress toward deciphering details of the underlying biology of mental disorders. Yet experts disagree on how far we can push this biological model. Are mental illnesses simply physical diseases that happen to strike the brain? Or do these disorders belong to a class all their own?
The question remained: Were we any closer to finalizing a true biological cure for mental illness?
A June, 2020 article on WebMD.com, titled “Causes of Mental Illness” as medically reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD, addresses psychological issues such as trauma which may not appear to have biological root causality at first consideration: Some mental illnesses have been linked to abnormal functioning of nerve cell circuits or pathways that connect particular brain regions. Nerve cells within these brain circuits communicate through chemicals called neurotransmitters. "Tweaking" these chemicals -- through medicines, psychotherapy or other medical procedures -- can help brain circuits run more efficiently. In addition, defects in or injury to certain areas of the brain have also been linked to some mental conditions.
The question in this regard is the degree a biological therapy can help the spectrum of mental illness.
Finally, Kate MacDuffie and Tim Strauman of the Society of Clinical Psychology make a noted distinction in their article titled “Do Beliefs About Biology Matter For Mental Health?”
From the article: Biological systems—from the level of molecules all the way up to ecosystems—almost universally have some mechanism for adaptation or reaction to changes in the environment. That is, emerging research on brain plasticity and epigenetics is creating a picture of the disordered brain as anything but fixed. Rearing environment, exposure to stress, medications, and even diet all can influence the inherently malleable brain circuits involved in psychiatric disorders.
Is there, then, a fix for that disordered brain?
The general line of thinking of both modern-day scientists and doctors is if they can identify an overall repair to a “disordered brain,” using MacDuffie and Strauman’s term above, the entire spectrum of mental illness may one day become as fixable as a car’s damaged transmission.
Thank you for reading.