Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mental Illness - a New Frontier

There is currently a considerable effort being undertaken to revise the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This endeavor has been inspired by the significant strides that have been achieved in understanding the nature of mental imbalances made possible by breakthroughs in the areas of neuroscience and neurobiology. As we have noted previously, many disorders including Chronic Depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have been shown to result from a dysfunction in particular neural circuits in the brain.

In spite of these findings, there remains much to be discovered in regards to the biological basis of mental disorders – what causes these disruptions in the brain’s circuitry. For this reason, the DSM will remain focused on symptoms for the various disorders.

There is a new initiative that has been launched by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to fund the pure scientific research that is required to uncover the root causes of mental disorders. According to Bruce Cuthbert, an NIMH scientist, “What we are doing is trying to develop new ways to classify disorders that are based on identifiable neural circuits.”

To date the draft DSM has outlined five domains of mental function that correlate with specific regions of the brain or particular chemical signaling pathways or both. The road to completion of the DSM will be a long and arduous one, but well worth the effort, especially in regards to improved treatments for those unfortunate enough to be plagued by mental illness.

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