Since the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., many of us have had to report on mental illness and found ourselves wrestling with what we know and, more often, don’t know about its causes and effects. Psychiatrists on AHCJ’s “Redefining Mental Disorders” panel on Friday pointed to reasons why we know so little. But they also shared signs of hope that better insights for doctors and patients lie ahead.
Diagnosis needs more precision
Part of what limits our ability to understand a psychiatric disorder – like schizophrenia, or autism – is the difficulty of diagnosis, says Paul Summergrad, M.D., who heads the Department of Psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and Tufts Medical Center (and also is president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association). Doctors can identify the clinical signs of a disorder, but still know very little about the underlying cause, or pathophysiology. Plus, what’s “mental” about a mental illness isn’t always clear. Summergrad says more precise diagnoses might do more than help doctors find better treatments; they might help reporters combat stigma. He urges journalists to go beyond the recently released Associated Press guidelines for covering mental illness by identifying the specific disorder a person has. Continue reading