DIY Medicine

A big challenge that I’ve noticed in my work is how to get help for the people who need it – even when they take the step of asking for help, wait times are very long. However – it seems that a lot of psychiatry is not rocket science (as an example, see this article in The Guardian on the MANAS intervention, where lay people were trained to deliver effective psychotherapy).

This study really makes one think about how mental health could be provided for all people, by all people. I believe, for example, it is quite reasonable to argue that mindfulness training and interpersonal skills should be in the hands of the average person. In a sense, it still is – there are many places where one can learn to meditate for free. At the same time, there seems to be a trend in our society for everything to become ultra-specialized so that there is an expert for everything and less emphasis on disseminating skills for people to help themselves.

All of this brings me to the issue of how medical knowledge is disseminated. In the computer world we have open-source software – Freely available, free to modify, free to disseminate. This, in some ways, is the opposite of proprietary software, which makes the user reliant on an expert company or institution for updates and licenses. Is mental health a bit too much like Microsoft or Apple?

Psychiatrists could probably be doing a lot more to work with other people like artists, designers, or software developers, to package health information in a way that is more easily disseminated and accessed. We could put more power in the hands of people to help themselves. OHIP doesn’t compensate us to do that (but we would get nicely compensated for working in a hospital or an ER). Still – would wellness promotion and education be a more economic use of our time?

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