tweet by Mohammed Rashed has intrigued me. He says the distinction between functional and organic mental illness is not valid, and suggests it's a false distinction based on a misunderstanding of the concept of illness. The brevity of communication on twitter leaves me not understanding what he means.
I have argued that critical psychiatry seeks to restore the functional/organic distinction (eg. see previous post). It was abolished by DSM-IV (see eg. previous post) but this was a mistake.
Mental and brain activity need to be understood as a single biological response. The problem is that we tend to have a mechanical view of biology, which can make it difficult for psychiatry to integrate mind and brain (see eg. previous post). Mental dysfunction ie. functional mental illness, as much as brain disease ie. organic illness, is a medical condition resulting from pathological process.
We have always needed myths to understand illness, including madness (see eg. previous post). Relating symptoms to their underlying physical pathology was a major advance for medicine in the first half of the nineteenth century and still underlies our modern understanding of disease (see eg. previous post). Applying this anatomoclinical method in psychiatry was not as successful because it was not always very easy to relate mental conditions to underlying brain pathology. In fact, it led to an overenthusiastic search for anatomical localisation of mental illness in the second half of the nineteenth creating a brain mythology that was unrelated to empirical findings. Acceptance of the organic/functional distinction helped psychiatry to move on from such fanciful notions.
Of course acute brain disease can cause delirium and chronic brain disease can cause dementia. The symptom patterns of brain disease are different from functional illness, with a prominent disturbance of cognitive function, such as orientation. Clinicians are trained to assess and detect whether a psychiatric presentation may have an underlying organic basis by testing cognitive function in particular. To suggest that the distinction between functional and organic mental illness is invalid does not seem to make sense to me clinically, let alone conceptually.
Nor am I sure what understanding of illness Mohammed thinks we should have that will make it apparent that the functional/organic distinction is invalid. Technically a distinction has been made in the scientific literature between illness, which is the personal experience of symptoms and suffering, whereas disease is the underlying biological pathology (see eg. previous post). Disease is something an organ has; illness is something a person has. It's commonly assumed that the organic basis of mental illness will be found (see eg. previous post). Could this be what Mohammed means? If so, my claim is that the functional/organic distinction is more fundamental and critical psychiatry is a legitimate challenge to the disease model of mental illness (see eg. previous post).
I'm hoping this blog may help to clarify what Mohammed meant by his tweet. Once I've understood, maybe this issue does need to be taken forward in debate in a scientific article. There does need to be further discussion about the validity of the functional/organic distinction of mental illness.