Thursday, 3 September 2015

Mind, Value and Mental Health Conference

The Mind, Value and Mental Health International Conference in Philosophy and Psychiatry took place on 25 July 2015 at the picturesque St. Hilda’s College at the University of Oxford. It attracted philosophers, psychiatrists and psychologists both from the UK and from abroad. Below I summarise four of the papers presented on that immensely fascinating day.

The first talk was given by Rachel Cooper, Lancaster University (pictured below with Matthew Parrott) and was entitled ‘DSM-5: Stasis and Change’. Cooper argued that classifications like the DSM can be thought of as forming part of the infrastructure of science, and have much in common with material infrastructure. The implications are, Cooper suggested, are that as with material technologies it becomes possible for ‘path dependent’ development to cause a sub-optimal classification to get ‘locked in’ and hard to replace. Cooper argued that the DSM has become locked-in and as a consequence any changes to the diagnostic criteria have become very difficult.


The next paper was given by Gerrit Glas, (VU University, Netherlands) and was entitled ‘Psychopathology and Self-Relatedness: Conceptual Issues’. Glas defended the view that psychiatry needs a clinical conception of psychopathology, alongside scientific conceptions. Clinical conception, Glas argued, is both self-related and context-oriented. Glas introduced the notion of self-refentiality and explained how it can help to understand and make sense of the layers of clinical manifestations of mental illness.

In her talk ‘A framework for understanding epistemic authority in counselling contexts’ Catherine Rickus (Marquette University, USA) argued that in a therapeutic situation the recognition of one’s own emotions might not always be correct. For example, one may not give themselves permission to feel nervous in a certain situation, therefore they may not recognise they are nervous. In those situations, a third person’s (therapist’s) view might be more accurate. Rickus pointed at the importance of collaborative work between a patient and a therapist in order to draw possibly most accurate conclusions.

The last paper was presented by Owen Flanagan (Duke University, USA) (pictured below) with a catching title ‘Willing Addicts? Drinkers, Dandies, Druggies and other Dionysians’. Flanagan asked whether addiction may be seen, in many cases, as a choice rather than an ‘unwilling’ illness. He introduced a notion of ‘willing addicts’ to describe people who rationally choose addiction (either to become one or once becoming one, to stay one). A willing addict prefers, all things considered, to remain an addict. By providing real-life examples coming from recent autobiographical works, Flanagan argued that the phenomenon of willing addiction is possible and indeed actual.



As a part of the Conference programme, there was an opportunity to attend the launch of ‘The Oxford Handbook of Psychiatric Ethics’ (Oxford University Press, 2015) (picture below). The impressive volume contains many interesting chapters related to the field, with one on rationality and patient autonomy authored by Lisa Bortolotti and Jill Craigie.


The Mind, Value and Mental Health Conference was a valuable experience. It enabled an interdisciplinary discussion on current conceptual issues in philosophy of psychiatry as well as offering a chance for valuable networking.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Optimism and the Creation of Everyday Myths


After having studied relatively rare irrational beliefs, those that are also considered symptoms of psychiatric disorders and 'marks of madness', I have recently become interested in the irrationality of everyday beliefs and in particular in those beliefs and predictions that seem to betray excessive optimism.

On 15th January 2015, I was asked to give a talk to the public at Modern Art Oxford, a gallery hosting at the time an exhibition called "Love is Enough", with artwork by William Morris and Andy Warhol. The brief for the talk was to think about the creation of myths, something that interested both artists. I took the opportunity to examine the everyday myths that we all create when we think about our own character traits, talents, skills, and come to believe that we are better than average at everything.

When we imagine what our future will be like, we see it as free of failure, drama and illness, and exemplifying a continuous progress, moving from aspirations to achievements. Such illusory beliefs and unrealistic predictions seem to be good for us, as they have been shown to be beneficial by enhancing mental and physical health, and seem to make us also more resilient and sociable. It would seem that optimism fuels irrational beliefs that make us happier.

But when we familiarise ourselves with the recent empirical literature, we realise that the overall picture is more complicated than initially suggested. We cannot just give up the rationality of our beliefs in exchange for lasting happiness. I wrote a brief review on realism and optimism with Magdalena Antrobus, which is available open access in Current Opinions in Psychiatry, and it shows that we should revisit the hypothesis that optimistic cognitions are psychologically adaptive. Realistic beliefs and expectations can be conducive to wellbeing and good functioning, and wildly optimistic cognitions have considerable psychological costs.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Young People and Mental Health


Today's post is by Sophie (pictured above), a Journalism student who has health anxiety, social anxiety and OCD. Sophie writes several blogs, and is on Twitter. The post you can read here is an extract from a longer post previously published in The Musings of a Journalism Student on 19th July 2015. We repost it on our blog with her permission, for our series of posts by experts-by-experience.

I recently watched a documentary called Kids in Crisis which featured young children and teenagers who had mental health problems. These children had a formal diagnosis. I’ve also had a family member recently diagnosed with reactive depression, who is merely a young person themselves. That is a strong diagnosis to place on someone so young.

Many clinicians are reluctant to place such a permanent diagnosis on young people but alas many young people do have a formal diagnosis. A label that will stick to them for life. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I was recently diagnosed with anxiety and OCD, if you haven’t well now you know! I’m always going to have these disorders. They are part of me, but they do not make up my identity as such. They aren’t a positive label to have. Being labelled with a mental health problem isn’t good at all. But we can use it to our advantage. Something not many people see.

Today mental health problems still have a stigma attached to them. Depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, anorexia, bulimia… every mental health problem has a stigma. Not every physical health problem does. I feel like today’s generation who have been placed in the “persons who are mentally unwell” box are going to be faced with a lot of stigma.

I know that I’ve been experiencing my current symptoms since the age of 14, but I never thought anything of it. I used to collect bottle tops, worry if I lost something to the point where I’d have a panic attack and so much more. I had low confidence too. I thought this was normal. I thought I had Asperger’s Syndrome at one point after researching, but ignored it, mainly because of the stigma attached to learning difficulties.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

BSPS Annual Conference

The British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference took place on 2-3 July 2015 at the University of Manchester. Throughout two days philosophers of science presented their recent work in this fascinating field, including well-established researchers as well as some postgraduate students. In this post I summarise five out of a broad spectrum of papers presented during the Open Sessions, related to – broadly understood – philosophy of psychology and psychiatry.

Brice Bantegnie (pictured below) kicked off the Open Sessions with his paper ‘A Shift in Focus: From Mental States to Mental Capacities’. The author reviewed different mental capacities investigated in cognitive psychology and argued that a greater attention ought to be paid to the work of psychologists in order to better understand a great diversity of these capacities. Bantegnie stressed that the good criterion of individuation can lead us to postulate a very high number of sensory modalities.