Let’s get unstuck from our old ways of thinking about mental ...

Lifestyle

Let’s get unstuck from our old ways of thinking about mental disorders

Some hold that mental illnesses are brain diseases. Others say they’re social constructs. Are both sides right?

Kristopher Nielsen

What exactly are mental disorders?

The answer to this question is important because it informs how researchers should go about trying to explain mental disorders, how the public responds to people who experience them and how we should go about developing treatments for them.

Despite the importance of this question, there’s little consensus on the answer. Some hold that mental disorders are brain diseases. Others argue they’re social constructs used to medicalise aberrant behaviour. Some think that they’re evolutionarily adaptive behavioural responses that no longer work for us in a modern context. And some think that they’re errors or biases in our cognitive “coding”. Yet others believe that they’re just normal responses to terrible situations...

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