Mental Illness in a Test Tube

November 17, 2016
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The lack of objective medical tests in psychiatry is a common criticism of the field. According to some, being a doctor means using physical exams, lab work or imaging to evaluate patients. Indeed, oncologists can find a tumor on a CT scan. Cardiologists can diagnose a heart attack with blood tests or an electrocardiogram.

Despite public misconceptions, psychiatrists do much of the same. We use objective tests all the time to evaluate patients with mental illness. (And I don’t mean inkblots.)

Say a middle-aged man visits a doctor’s office because he’s been experiencing confusion and memory problems. His family says his speech sounds different. The man has become delusional about his neighbors, convinced they are poisoning his food. He has no other medical history, other than a rash on his genitals years before.

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Image: Amitchell125 at English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license via Scientific American

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