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Twenty Billion Fails to "Move the Needle" on Mental Illness

Thomas Insel admits to misguided research paradigm on mental illness.

Former NIMH Director, Thomas Insel

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Former NIMH head Thomas Insel recently made a remarkable concession. He acknowledged that the biomedical framework he adopted while directing $20 billion dollars in NIMH research funds failed to "move the needle" in improving the lives of the millions of people with mental illnesses.

Here is his full quote:

“I spent 13 years at NIMH really pushing on the neuroscience and genetics of mental disorders, and when I look back on that I realize that while I think I succeeded at getting lots of really cool papers published by cool scientists at fairly large costs—I think $20 billion—I don’t think we moved the needle in reducing suicide, reducing hospitalizations, improving recovery for the tens of millions of people who have mental illness.”

If this is not evidence that we need to stop reducing the human mind to the brain, I don't know what would be. Maladaptive psychological patterns, such as depression and anxiety, addictive behaviors, problems with concentration and performance, problems with identity and relationships, difficulties stemming from trauma are not caused by brain malfunctions or chemical imbalances, and are not "cured" with pills. Psychological behaviors are mediated by the brain, but they are not reducible to the brain (e.g., see here for the difference in understanding depression.) Thus, they have been looking in all the wrong places.

It is tragic that tax payers spent so much money on such an obvious fallacy. Maybe this will motivate scientists to look for accurate models for understanding the human mind and consciousness, such as the ToK System. If so, we could actually move the needle with far fewer resources.