The ‘drugs v talking’ debate doesn’t help us understand mental health

mental health conference australiaMental health is in the headlines again. In recent weeks, we have had the independent commission report on psychiatric care in England, which concluded that patients should not be treated miles away from their families; the Mental Health Taskforce report, which highlighted a rise in suicides; and the prime minister committing to improving mental health services.

But it was the BBC’s In the Mind series that reignited a longstanding debate about the nature and treatment of mental illness. Sometimes this has been caricatured as “psychiatry v psychology”, or equally unhelpfully “drugs v talking”, or “brain v mind”. But these are false distinctions, which don’t help in understanding mental disorders, don’t help mental health professionals, and most of all don’t help patients.

Sometimes these arguments arise from a confusion about what the different mental health professions do. All of us have been professionally trained to help people with psychological distress or mental illness, but we do so in different, albeit overlapping, ways.

Psychiatry is a medical speciality, like general practice, surgery or general medicine. We train for at least five years as a doctor and then do two further years of “foundation” jobs in hospitals before we can start to choose our speciality, in my case psychiatry. Like other areas of medicine, psychiatry builds its knowledge through the observation of unusual and distressing conditions. It uses a diagnostic system, which tries to identify clusters of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that seem to occur together. Some also research the social, psychological and physical causes of mental disorder, with a view to finding effective ways of helping. Psychiatrists usually work with people who have complex disorders, such as schizophrenia, autism or bipolar disorder.

Clinical psychologists have gained a psychology degree followed by three years’ doctorate clinical training. They use several models of psychological therapy to help patients. Psychology focuses on psychological mechanisms. Clinical psychologists work with the some of the same patient groups as psychiatrists, such as those with eating disorders or dementia. To read more click here.

The 17th International Mental Health Conference; Guiding the Change will be held at the brand new Sea World Resort Conference Centre on the Gold Coast, QLD 11 -12 August 2016.

This conference will bring together leading clinical practitioners, academics, service providers and mental health experts to deliberate and discuss Mental Health issues confronting Australia and New Zealand.

The conference program will be designed to challenge, inspire, demonstrate and encourage participants while facilitating discussion. To register your attendance at the conference CLICK HERE.

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