Mental illness care 'close to a revolution'

 

A revolution in the treatment of psychiatric disorders involving the use of video games, brain surgery, new forms of therapy and drugs will transform the care of the mentally ill in the coming decades, America's leading expert in the field has said.

Professor Thomas Insel, director of the National Institutes of Mental Health, the world's largest psychiatric research organisation which distributes $1.5bn (£1bn) annually in research grants, said mental disorders were now being seen as disorders of the brain and the change was having a profound effect on how they were diagnosed and treated. "We are at a tipping point," he said. "We are close to a revolution in how we think about these disorders. Things are changing in a very profound way. The entire intellectual ground is shifting."

Anti-depressant drugs used to treat depression worked only against the symptoms, not the cause, and treatment mostly came too late to affect the course of the disease. But advances in imaging had enabled researchers to see problems in brain circuits which could be mapped, opening up new possibilities for treatment.

Experiments had shown that the powerful veterinary tranquilliser ketamine lifted depression within hours compared with the four to six weeks for traditional anti-depressants, suggesting new treatment pathways could be explored, he said.

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