2021-09 Mental health: studying systems instead of syndromes

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Category: Communication

Description: This talk is available on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZf8VHM1pHI), and accompanies a new preprint with the same title (https://psyarxiv.com/k4mhv). Abstract: Over the last decades, a vast amount of clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, researchers, and others have been working tirelessly to improve the lives of people affected by mental health problems. Mental health has also received increasing political and funding priority. However, despite massive global efforts, understanding of mental health problems as well as treatment efficacy remain disappointing. In this talk, I describe two reasons for this lack of progress: diagnostic literalism and reductionism. Diagnostic literalism is the tendency to take mental health diagnoses for more than they are. Reductionism is an approach that aims to understand complex mental health problems by reducing it to a few (often biological) mechanisms. I demonstrate that these approaches are widespread and obfuscate important insights. Both views result from, and in turn reify, the problematic premise that mental health diagnoses cut nature at her joints. I posit that conceptualizing psychopathology as a complex, biopsychosocial system is a crucial conceptual shift that offers novel opportunities.

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