I WOULD LIKE TO MAKE an important statement about the validity of Kay Jamison’s assertions about the “disease” of manic-depression (Books, 10/6). I know that she is a psychiatrist who teaches and does research at John Hopkins University, but as a student of psychology with an avid interest in the world of scientific research, I have yet to encounter any documented evidence—i.e., a conclusive research study—that proves any mental illness, particularly of the mood variety, is genetically based or inherited.
I recently saw Jamison speak at a local bookstore and asked her about this biologically based phenomena. She gave me some vague statistics about some twin studies that had been done and then referred me to her friend and colleague, Dr. Robert Post, whom she said was the leading authority on this issue. Do you know what he said? He basically reinforced what I thought to be true—he said there was yet to be any concrete evidence to prove this genetic theory of manic-depressive illness. He also satisfied my curiosity by stating that there is no way to really test for this disease (not in the form of a blood test, CAT scan, or other biological measure). After some further probing about whether or not it was scientifically responsible to promote this premature idea of genetic illness, he answered that there was a general consensus among researchers that this was the case. No proof, but a general consensus! There is the beauty of contemporary science for you.
My point is that there is no scientific evidence, to date, to support the genetic basis of this disorder. Furthermore, I feel it is a real insult to the many people afflicted with very real (concrete, not abstract) diseases of the body to suggest that this emotional disorder can kill more people than cancer and heart disease (Jamison’s words, not mine).
I don’t mean to sound cold and cruel, but science must have standards of integrity. These standards include doing ethical research and presenting the facts as they have presented themselves to you as a researcher. We must not hide behind the notion of a disease when there is no proof, just to circumvent personal responsibility for our lives and how we live them. I am not saying people deserve to feel depressed, or manic for that matter, but I am saying that we should be careful what we call these emotional extremes. These are valid feelings, but not real diseases.
Van Ness via the Internet