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Colleen H.
Psychology major, certified paralegal, education paraprofessional and experienced tutor
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Psychology
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Question:

An increasing amount of researchers are beginning to rethink the "neurotransmitter theory" of mental illness. With pharmaceutical companies producing vast amounts of drugs used to treat mental conditions, and doctors frequently prescribing these medications, what does this emerging view by the scientific community mean for the future treatment of illnesses like depression and bipolar?

Colleen H.
Answer:

In a very interesting article from October of 2013 written by Joseph Hall for the Toronto Star entitled "Mental illness: is 'chemical imbalance' theory a myth?" this very issue is addressed. This article discusses how the neurotransmitter theory, or chemical imbalance theory, while still considered scientific gospel by physicians and consumers, is becoming increasingly less so by the scientific research community. Specifically with regard to mental illnesses like depression, which is treated with medications that act on neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine (Hall, 2013). Through the years, scientists came to believe that mental illnesses were disorders of the brain, much as is the case with other organs such as the heart. The belief was that any disruption in their functioning was due to some physiological process (Hall, 2013). Consequently, over time, conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. came to be associated with "chemical imbalances" in the brain. These chemical imbalances, as they were called, were basically disruptions in the brain's neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are substances which enable the brain's unfathomable amount of cells to communicate with one another (Hall, 2013). Because scientists had discovered success with drugs such as Lithium to treat bipolar, Thorazine for schizophrenia and the antidepressant Tofranil, as well as Valium and Librium, the concept of drugs to treat mental illness was widely accepted. So when neurotransmitters were discovered in the 1950's, it made sense that these could possibly be the mechanism behind mental illness, and therefore, synthetic counterparts in the form of drugs could be use to manage and control these neurotransmitters, reducing or eliminating the effects of mental illness (Hall, 2013). No doubt this was a huge boon to the drug companies who were to produce them. So with that thought in mind, the pharmaceutical companies began mass production of these medications which were believed to be able to balance brain chemistry. Today, the various pills on the market, especially those to treat depression, remain the treatment of choice for general practitioners who have, at a minimum, a rather rudimentary understanding of psychiatry (Hall, 2013). Edward Shorter, a medical historian at the University of Toronto, however, states that to the contrary, an ever increasing number of scientific researchers no longer believe in these neurotransmitter theories of mental illness. Especially with regard to depression (Hall, 2013). Yet, some do continue to argue on behalf of neurotransmitters, citing that these drugs, which target brain chemicals, have been life savers through controlling various mental and neurological diseases such as schizophrenia and Parkinson's (Hall, 2013). For example, it is well known that drugs that block the "D2" (dopamine) receptor are excellent in controlling psychotic symptoms in schizophrenic patients (Hall, 2013). Also, depression is often treated with SSRI's which inhibit serotonin reuptake, leaving more of the chemical available for neural communications. However, according to Shorter, no one has ever proven beyond a doubt that lack of serotonin causes depression or any other illness (Hall, 2013). Shorter further states that while the drugs most definitely seem to work on some estimated 50% of patients with depression, it is not entirely clear that they do so because of their effect on serotonin and not some other unknown mechanism (Hall, 2013). Those researchers, like Shorter, who see the theory as lacking, say that in truth nobody is certain exactly what the cause of the mental illnesses are, although most definitely the answer lies in the brain (Hall, 2013). Whether the answers lie solely in the neurochemistry of the brain is still a mystery (Hall, 2013). However, Shorter does not recommend that these medications be cast as "snake oil" just yet, as they are indeed effective in many cases (Hall, 2013). Furthermore, researchers don't deny that these drugs are instrumental in treating some of the more serious psychiatric ailments such as hallucinations, delusions, muddled thinking and lethargy (Hall, 2013). They believe it is especially with depression, that the neurotransmitter theory has been overused and the data regarding serotonin has been over interpreted (Hall, 2013). But in certain types of depression, such as forms where symptoms involve more anxiety, obsession and sleeplessness, versus those more melancholic varieties, SSRI's have been shown to work well (Hall, 2013). In summary, it seems that the author and researchers are saying that neurotransmitter theory is certainly still valid. It has served us well in combating many ailments of the brain and made life more livable for millions of people the world over. Yet, they question the degree to which these neurotransmitters are involved in producing mental illness. They agree that while medication has definitely proven helpful in many cases, there remains no indisputable scientific evidence that these drugs are indeed acting upon the on the neurotransmitters. Nor are they certain that any subsequent improvement after taking these medications is not attributable to some other mechanism. Therefore, further research is warranted on this topic and that is probably what we will see going in to the future. In the meantime, drug therapies will most likely continue to be offered to those looking for hope in the shape of a pill. Hall, J. (October, 2013). Mental illness: is 'chemical imbalance' theory a myth? Toronto Star. Retrieved from: http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2013/10/18/mental_illness_is_chemical_imbalance_theory_a_myth.html

Philosophy
TutorMe
Question:

In the end, philosophy is about what is moral, right and good. However, as we delve further into the subject, we often become confused about what exactly those things mean, and what the philosophers are actually saying. One big question is "is there a universal standard for morality?"

Colleen H.
Answer:

According to Herodotus, people tend to adopt the beliefs of what is considered normal, usual, appropriate and right, in relation to what the majority in their respective society and culture believe it to be. What many view as wrong, deviant, or unacceptable in one society, may be entirely the opposite in another. According to Pojman in Sommers, (2012) “Culture is King over all.” Ruth Benedict stated that morality is a term used for socially approved customs (Sommers & Sommers, 2012). She believed that “most individuals are plastic to the moulding force of the society into which they are born” (Sommers & Sommers, 2012). However, I don’t believe that this is always the case. I believe it may be true for perhaps most individuals. But I also believe people will do away with the “moulding” of the society they are “born” into if it suits them to do so, or if there is something they disagree with or if they no longer can or choose to identify with that society. Relativism basically tells us as we hold our own customs and beliefs up to those of another culture or even another individual, that although we may identify and choose to live our lives based on the custom that we identify with, whether from birth, or from a choice made later in life, that our way is not necessarily the “right” and it is especially not the “only” way. To view things as truly relative, requires both neutrality and moral understanding that the values and mores one holds are part of one’s very identity and that each person has as a basic universal human right to their own identity. I take relativism to mean that what is considered moral and immoral to be governed by the commonly held customs and norms of the majority within the society/culture in which the question of the morality of an action arises. That being said, I also believe that there can be various norms, beliefs and morals all within one culture or society. And these norms and morals that a society holds can change over time, as the majority shifts or situations change. I think philosophers believe that there should be some basic human rights for all people because without them, there would be no moral order. According to Joseph E. Davis (2008) moral order is defined as “a central dimension of culture. Generally the term refers to any system of obligations that defines and organizes the proper – good, right, virtuous – among individuals in a group and in a community. Such systems derive from religions, traditions, or ideologies. They are expressed explicitly in institutional rules, laws, moral codes and the like, as well as implicitly in various roles, rites and rituals of social life.” (Davis, 2008). Without some sort of inherent guidelines that are the basis of how we should treat each other as human beings, there would be no order and complete chaos. If there were no moral order, it is quite possible that the human race may not exist at all as we would cease to value anything or anyone and exist in a state where nothing is right or wrong, where our very basest and most primitive desires, wants and needs and to get those things met with little regard for anything or anyone, can and should be met regardless. We would therefore, cease to be human. And finally, I have really struggled with the question of whether or not I believe there is a “right” that I would impose, even by force, upon the rest of the world. I have my own beliefs and values as we all do. We may or may not agree on some or all. Some of my beliefs I have been raised on whether from my family, my religion, my education, or simply from my experience in life. Some I have kept, and some I have rejected and changed over the years. As a person, with my own identity, naturally I believe that my values and morals are right. I know when I’m acting with or against them. And for the most part, I will fight for them. Do I ever get frustrated or even angered at the views or moralities of others with whom I do not agree? Certainly. However, I recognize that others also have the right to theirs as well, as their lives, backgrounds, and experiences are entirely different from mine. It would be nice to say that I would like to see a world where everyone is treated equal, that everyone is treated kindly, that we only act in ways toward others that would ensure happiness. But in saying that, it only opens up more questions. What is equality? Equality in what way? Kindness by what or by whose standards? Happiness by what or whose standards? This is all very subjective and therefore I think it would be impossible to impose a universal standard of morality. Davis, Joseph E.(2008). Moral Order. Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. The Last Word E News. Spring, 2008. Retrieved from http://www.iasc-culture.org/eNews/2008_04/LastWord_CultureSpring08.pdf Sommers, C. H. and Sommers, F. (2013). Vice & Virtue in Everyday Life – 9th Edition. Boston, MA: Wadsworth

Writing
TutorMe
Question:

What are the most important things to consider when doing any type of writing?

Colleen H.
Answer:

When we write, we are writing to make an impression. Whether it's a personal letter, college essay, or professional correspondence, we are hoping to do a few basic things: 1. Give information Writing to inform is one of the most common forms of writing. When we write, we do so in order to make a point, to impart information, or to persuade. We may be writing to tell our audience about ourselves, someone else, or perhaps an event of some kind. Surely, everything we read, from simple text messages to an entire chapter in a book, is written with at least one of those points in mind. Have you ever read something that was poorly written? It can make it extremely difficult to obtain accurate information and to understand the author's message if there are errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar and context. Poorly written documents do not flow well, and tend to be confusing and difficult to decipher. The ability to write well enables us to convey ideas in a clear and concise manner. When we are writing about something, most assuredly the information we are presenting is important; at least to us. And we would like our audience to at least be somewhat interested in what we are saying. So, to that end, wouldn't it seem important that you are able to write clearly? Absolutely! 2. Engage the reader Have you ever heard someone say "it's an easy read?" What people are usually referring to when they say this is how easily they were able to become and remain engaged in the material that they were reading. The ability to write well ensures that our message will come across as we intended; that it will not be confusing or ignored by the audience. A document that is well written as opposed to one that is not, may make all the difference as to whether your message is received in the way you intended. Indeed, something may be well written from a mechanical standpoint; having followed all the grammatical, punctuation, spelling and contextual rules "to the letter" so to speak. However, the document itself may be boring. People may find it "difficult to read." It may be too long. It may ramble on or not flow well. Any number of situations could cause your audience to disengage from your words, thereby missing important points in your writing. 3. Portray an image of ourselves to the reader Aside from imparting a message of some sort to our audience, our writing can be a reflection of who we are. Through our ability to write well, we can prove ourselves to be effective communicators. We can demonstrate our knowledge, skills and intelligence. Depending on what we are writing, we may display our level of professionalism, express our emotions or evoke emotions in others. We can reveal our personality, as well as accurately describe surroundings and situations. In college, this can translate in to better chances of being accepted to our school of choice and/or graduate school. It can also mean better grades. Solid writing skills not only benefit college students, but also transfer to the workplace and daily life. Most professions require writing skills. A well written resume and cover letter can make all the difference in whether or not we are hired. It is one of the first things hiring managers look for when considering potential candidates. Business professionals who have excellent writing ability often find themselves moving up the corporate ladder, being seen as more effective leaders. Even in every day life, our ability to write well is important. The ability to accurately describe situations, appropriately express opinions and feelings, even making requests in writing, can tell the reader a lot about who we are as a person. Ways in which to improve one's writing skills include reading and writing often and trying out effective writing techniques. It's also helpful to plan what will be written before beginning to write. Experimenting with new writing styles can be helpful for developing an individual writing style. Furthermore, it's very important to get feedback on one's writing and revise the piece with suggestions. These are all areas in which an effective writing tutor may assist you.

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