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Blues in Their Genes?

October 02, 1988

"When the Mood Strikes (by Joan Libman, Sept. 20) seems to imply that psychologists are astounded to discover that mood-swings "may" have a biological origin. As can be attested to by anyone who has had to deal with a family member who is a manic-depressive, the biochemical cause of mood swings have been known about for decades. And the evidence is now stronger than ever: Remember just a year or two ago, when a defective gene was found in the manic-depressive members of an extended Amish family? That was exciting news, as was the earlier study, which traced a similar defective chromosome in families that had high incidences of severe depression.

Yet the psychologists in the View article are just now, when it's almost 1989, acknowledging that mood swings "may" have a genetic link. This will not be surprising to those who have endured the pain, the frustration, the anger of trying to help a depressive or a manic-depressive out of the clutches of a crippling depressive mood swing, and who have mistakenly taken that patient to a psychologist or some other non-physician mental health worker.

Because psychologists cannot prescribe medications, too often they will resort to experiments with Twinkie ingestion, as described in the article, or some other voodoo technique for which they hope to land a government grant. Rare indeed is the non-physician "counselor" who will say, "Depressions like this are usually biochemical in origin. This is a neurological disease, not a psychological problem, and I'm going to refer you to a psychiatrist for a medical evaluation. This cannot be treated by wise Freudian advice, or by laying guilt trips on you, or by any of the other traditional methods I was taught in Ph.D. school. I am going to put my ego aside. I think you need medication."

And indeed, the many excellent antidepressants work, as do the mood stabilizers, most notably lithium. Not insignificantly, such drugs are a lot cheaper than 50-minute sessions or ultimately useless and often harmful "therapy."

TOM BURNS

Acton

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