Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Shadow Syndromes: The Mild Forms of Major Mental Disorders That Sabotage Us, by John Ratey, M.D. & Catherine Johnson Ph.D. Bantam Books 1998

The title tells us accurately what this book is about: mild versions of mental illnesses. The authors state- and I believe them- that a mental disorder is not a discrete box to fit people into; mental disorders exist on a continuum, from almost unnoticeable to full blown psychosis (or, in the case of autism, Kanner’s syndrome). They examine mild forms of mania, ADHD, depression, OCD, anger, anxiety and autism, and say “If mild forms of mental disorders are making you (and those around you) miserable, you should seek treatment and be able to be happy”. They also point out that some of these mild disorders can confer advantages as well as problems: a person with hypomania can get a lot of things done; people with mild autism can focus incredibly well. Obviously, not all shadow syndromes have good sides; constantly being sad, lacking emotions, being angry all the time, perpetual worrying and having obsessions are not good things.

The authors are able to show that different mental disorders are caused by variations in brain chemistry; the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in various amounts create different effects. Antidepressants, tranquilizers, lithium and other psychiatric meds bring the neurotransmitters back into balance. Not that the authors feel everyone with a shadow syndrome needs to go on meds; their basic prescription for brain health is enough exercise, eating healthy, proper sleep, stress relieving techniques and therapy.

I think this is a very good book that makes a very valuable point about mental disorders, that mild forms are being overlooked and the sufferer being left unhappy. I would love to see a newer version; in fourteen years a lot more has become known about the brain. 


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