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Issue: Issue 4 (2017) – Supplement 3

Guest Editorial

Neurobiology of mental illness: from reductionism to integration

António Ferreira de Macedo
From its inception until now, psychiatry has continually searched for knowledge of brain-behavior relationships and the neurobiological underpinnings of psychopathology. The tendency to view mental illnesses as brain diseases is not new and goes back to Hippocrates, being dominant in the nineteenth century. This theoretical tradition was interrupted during the first decades of the twentieth century by a predominant psychological vision, embodied in different theories such as psychoanalysis, and a range of behavioural, humanistic and cognitive perspectives. However, in the last forty years the tendency to view psychiatric patients as individuals who have some kind of brain disorder has grown to the point of being an almost indisputable truth. In the second edition of Biological Psychiatry, Michael Trimble [1] said that biological psychiatry has a long past—which establishes its respectability—but a short history—which establishes its scientificity. Indeed, this part of the story is relatively short and researchers all over the world continue to struggle for discovering the neuronal and neurochemical bases of psychiatric symptoms. The corollary of this brain-centered vision, which is now firmly rooted in the mind of most psychiatrists, and is at the core of the contemporary neuroscience thinking, is that the mind is simply what the brain does. Consequently, mental pathology is merely the behavioral consequence of identifiable neuromolecular abnormalities. However, we must dispute this kind of simplistic brain-centered reductionisms, emphasizing that this view must be tempered with the notion that mental illness is multidetermined. This awareness should reminds us the great density of causal factors involved in mental illness and prevent us from falling into a simplistic and linear causal thinking. The explanation of this complex causality, including inside and outside-the skin factors is now well addressed within disciplines such as critical neuroscience and social neuroscience.

Special Issue on the Neurobiology of Mental Illness

International Journal of Clinical Neurosciences and Mental Health 2017; 4(Suppl. 3):S01
DOI: https://doi.org/10.21035/ijcnmh.2017.4(Suppl.3).S01
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