Morning Zen

Can Families Afford Gloating Over Failure to Prevent Stage 4 Mental Illness?

January 01, 2017

Morning Zen Guest Blog Post ~  Dennis D Embry, Ph.D.~ 

A few weeks ago, I received a snarky email, gloating over the fact that a study failed to replicate a study to prevent first episode psychosis. Can you imagine receiving a snarky email about a failure to prevent any cancer or any other terrible disease? Probably, not. Disappointment is not an abstraction for any afflicted person or their loved ones, facing death or lifetime disability.

Sixty years ago, our nation faced a crisis affecting our children—polio. Some 30,000 died in the early 1950s. Millions of families prayed for a cure. Children like me contributed dimes to the cause. There were false starts and failures for sure. The serious failures made national news. We never gave up hope. Eventually, science triumphed. First, Jonas Salk proved that a vaccine caused antibody expression. Second, Thomas Francis and the March of Dimes launched a massive study of hundreds of thousands of children in 44 states. It worked, and soon polio vanished as a terrifying force.

There were financial losers when polio was prevented: the people who made crutches, wheelchairs and iron lungs. There will be financial losers when psychiatric disorders are prevented, too,

The notion that serious psychiatric disorders are an inevitable lottery of genes is nothing short of self-serving marketing voodoo. I seriously doubt most readers have heard that prevalence rate of schizophrenia goes up with the increasing latitude North or South of the Equator. Or, almost nobody has heard that rates of schizophrenia get even worse with the darker one’s skin color, from the equator. Yet, the more people who eat oily fish, the lower the rate of schizophrenia. And, then there is the fact that 85% of the children who develop schizophrenia do not have parents with schizophrenia. So is all this the result of some unknown biological, genetic cause like the TV ads suggest? Perhaps not, and there are other data just like these.

One might recall the epidemic of cholera in London, and the famous study by John Snow. All sorts of theories abounded about the cause of cholera. Those theories were wrong, and perhaps a bunch of people made money from their implausible theories. Simply tearing off the handle of the Broad Street water pump stopped the epidemic.

We are close to tearing off the pump handle of the epidemic of mental illnesses. Millions will rejoice, though the purveyors who accrue money or status from the sales equivalent of iron lungs may not. Prevention is coming.


embryDennis D. Embry, Ph.D., is a prominent prevention scientist in the United States and Canada, trained as a clinician and developmental and child psychologist. He is president/senior scientist at PAXIS Institute in Tucson and co-investigator at Johns Hopkins University and the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy. Dr. Embry was recently appointed to the member of the SAMHSA Center for Mental Health Services National Advisory Council. His work and that of colleagues is cited in 2009 the Institute of Medicine Report on The Prevention of Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Disorders Among Young People. Clinically his work has focused on children and adults with serious mental illnesses. Dennis Embry is a member of the Children’s Mental Health Network Advisory Council.

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