$1.4 million spent
investigating the sexual
behaviour of the unisex
whiptail lizard. And
thats just the beginning.
By George A. Mentis
riticism of psychiatry has been growing over the last decade and rightfully so. With the publication of the latest incarnation of the bible of the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), whole strata of society have been added to the target client-base of the psychiatric industry. Almost 100 new mental illnesses were added since the previous edition in 1987.
The migraine sufferer can now be categorized as having a pain disorder. The person who gives up smoking or drinking coffee may be diagnosed with nicotine disorder or caffeine intoxification. If you cannot do math, you have a developmental arithmetic disorder. If you cannot express yourself in writing, you have developmental expressive writing disorder. The list goes on.
The Clarke Institute of Psychiatry had a sign in front of its building boldly declaring that 1 in 4 Canadians suffer from mental illness. While the Clarke has now removed the offending message undoubtedly due to the adverse publicity of shows such as CTVs W-5, the Canadian Psychiatric Association has raised the stakes and puts the percentage of mentally ill in Canada as high as 38%. Defining the parameters of mental illness appears very profitable.
Paula Caplan, a Toronto psychologist, has called the guidelines in the DSM-IV biased and unscientific and has written a sharply critical and incisive book entitled They Say Youre Crazy (How the Worlds Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Whos Normal).
She has stated that psychiatrists have forced problems in everyday living to be diagnosed as medical conditions which require treatment. Of course this treatment is paid by the taxpayers of Canada through government health insurance plans.
Theres so much covering-up and lying and manipulating, its really scandalous, Caplan says and she has called for government investigations into psychiatric diagnostic practices.
Scandalous is barely the correct word when it comes to the waste of money that is put out by government and privately funded institutions for ludicrous and vastly expensive psychiatric research.
In the United States last year, the National Institute of Mental Health came under scrutiny of the U.S. House of Representatives and had to explain the following:
- a study of brain circuits which control mounting and receptive sexual behaviour of the unisex whiptail lizard. Cost: $1.4 million.
- a five-year study of the hormonal mechanisms in the brains of rats which make them want to eat salt. Cost: $5 million.
- a 12-year study in which the jaw muscles of pigeons and rats were monitored electronically to determine which brain mechanisms could be linked to eating disorders in humans. Cost: over $545,000.
- a five-year study of red-winged blackbirds to determine how humans make choices of mates, dwelling, reproductive areas, escape routes and foraging areas. Cost: more than $539,000.
U.S. Congressman Ernest Istook asked the most obvious question of the day to NIMH Director Rex Cowdry.
I would appreciate it if you could provide for the record what characteristics of the following animals [subjects of NIMH research"] have in common with humans: unisex whiptail lizard, monkeys, rats, red-winged blackbirds, tree frogs, pigeons, horses, quail, hamsters, guinea pigs, ferrets, gerbils and the golden mantled ground squirrel.
This outrageous problem is not limited to the United States. A cursory look at psychiatric research in Canada comes up with some amazing projects itself.
- Title of article A rats reach should exceed its grasp: Analysis of independent limb and digit use in the laboratory rat.
- A comparison of rats and mice in a swimming pool ... some surprising differences.
- A three-year study of rabbits to find out the mechanics of rabbit psychosis, childhood disorders, arousal thresholds during sleep, and sleepwakefulness.
I would appreciate it if you could provide for the record what characteristics the following animals have in common with humans: ...ferrets, gerbils, and the golden mantled ground squirrel.
In Ontario, one of the funding organizations for psychiatric research is the Ontario Mental Health Foundation (OMHF). Doling out just over $3.3 million in 1995, it provides an interesting study.
The OMHF receives its funds from the Ontario ministries of Health and Community and Social Services as well as the Alzheimer Association and private donations. It provides direct research grants for specific projects and also fellowships, a special grant to help a student in their studies, for researchers. While the amounts are paltry in U.S. terms, the mechanism is not.
The 1995 report from the Chair stated that the Foundation owes a debt of gratitude to the research community for upholding a strong peer review system to ensure quality and accountability in the use of its [the Foundations] limited funds.
The grants are peer reviewed all right because it is commonplace for those who have received grants to sit on the grants committee and it is far from extraordinary for members of the committee to receive grants themselves. In 1995 alone, 14 out of 19 members of the committee that approved grants for the OMHF had received funds from the Foundation in prior years. Five members of the grants committee in 1995 also received grants totalling $212,000.
Some specific examples are:
- R. Joffee (Clarke Institute of Psychiatry) received grants of undisclosed amounts in 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994 and sat on the grants committee each of those years.
- S. Goldberg (Hospital for Sick Children) received a total of $304,743 from 1986 to 1989 while also on the grants committee.
- B. Levy (McMaster) received a total of $248,765 from 1992 to 1995 while on the grants committee each of those years.
- A. Bassett (Queen Street) while on the grants committee in 1992, 1994, and 1995 received $197,000 during those years.
Another interesting factor in the OMHF is that these peers are completely trusted because the OMHF does not require any accounting of the grants funds provided and never asks for a copy of the research produced. So for all intents and purposes, there is no oversight on the $3 million dollars forked out for research projects such as:
- The sleeping rabbit research mentioned above.
- The effects of chronic administration of psychiatric antidepressants, lithium and electroshock on rats.
- Brain chemical analysis of rats which have been given permanent brain damage due to the administration of psychotropic drugs.
- A 7-year study of group therapy for sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome.
- A study of the behaviour and brain chemicals resulting from stressing out mice.
- A four-year study of bullying and victimization in the schools which concluded that some children are bullies, playgrounds should be supervised, and that bullying awareness programs dont work. The researcher was on the grants committee for three of the four years that grants were received for this project.
It is time that governments at all levels investigate this extravagant waste. How much more money must be uselessly given to questionable research in which rodents are equated with human beings? With government restructuring of health care systems throughout Canada, with health care dollars at a premium, Canadians cannot afford this frivolous and silly expenditure of our hard-earned money.