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Researchers call for new approach to some mental disorders

Some of the most common mental disorders, including depression, anxiety and PTSD, might not be disorders at all, according to a recent paper by Washington State University biological anthropologists.

In the paper, published in the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, the researchers propose a new approach to mental illness that would be informed by human evolution, noting that modern psychology, and in particular its use of drugs like antidepressants, has largely failed to reduce the prevalence of mental disorders. (This paper was made available online on Nov. 28, 2019 ahead of final publication in the issue on April 28, 2020). For example, the global prevalence of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders remained steady at 4.4% and 4% respectively from 1990 to 2010.

Kristen Syme.

The authors also theorize that depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder may be primarily responses to adversity; therefore, only treating the “psychic pain” of these issues with drugs will not solve the underlying problem. Kristen Syme, the first author on the paper and recent WSU Ph.D. graduate, compared it to medicating someone for a broken bone without setting the bone itself.

“The pain is not the disease; the pain is the function that is telling you there is a problem,” said Syme. “Depression, anxiety and PTSD often involve a threat or exposure to violence, which are predictable sources for these things that we call mental diseases. Instead, they look more like sociocultural phenomena, so the solution is not necessarily fixing a dysfunction in the person’s brain but fixing dysfunctions in the social world.”

Ed Hagen.

Syme and co-author Edward Hagen advocate for biological anthropologists to enter the study of the “diseases of the mind,” to help find effective solutions, particularly for some problems that may be social instead of mental.

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WSU Insider
Psychology Today
Big Think
WSU Vancouver

Primary turnout in Washington state highest seen in decades

Washington state saw its highest primary turnout in more than five decades, with 55% of the state’s 4.6 million voters returning ballots for last week’s election, setting the stage for a potential record-breaking turnout in November.

Cornell Clayton.

Cornell Clayton, director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy at Washington State University, said the high turnout indicates a heightened level of fear among voters in both parties.

“I think the level of concern — because of polarization and because of the Covid economic crisis the country is in — is going to drive record levels of engagement across the nation,” he said.

The final turnout number won’t be known until next week, after county canvassing boards have reviewed any ballots that have been challenged over issues like signatures or postmarks.

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Associated Press News

Washington State Magazine launches podcast

You’ve read the stories of Washington State University for almost two decades in Washington State Magazine. Now you can listen to them, too, in a new monthly podcast.

Episodes of the podcast, Viewscapes, run about 15 minutes, with three different stories covering a wide variety of topics from around the University.

Greg Yasinitsky.

The first episode has a summer flavor with music, cherries, and those frequent visitors to barbecues: wasps. It features Regents Professor and composer Greg Yasinitsky talking about how he creates and performs music. Yasinitsky also wrote the jazz tunes for the podcast. Other segments uncover the truth about wasps with entomology doctoral student Megan Asche, and dive into a bowl of WSU’s own Rainier cherries with executive chef Jamie Callison.

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WSU Insider

Opinion: Improving conditions of race and poverty require proactive policies

By Mark Mansperger, associate professor of anthropology and world civilizations, WSU Tri-Cities
There doesn’t need to be as much strife and poverty as exists in contemporary America. In some nations, such as New Zealand, city residents will not understand a question about avoiding the “bad part of town,” for they have no such areas.

Mark Mansperger.

Economic inequality in the U.S. has soared over the past 45 years. What sense does it make to fault people for being poor while at the same time supporting policies that transfer increasing amounts of wealth to the richest Americans? Governmental policies need to structure a more equitable social environment and encourage more generosity among the aristocracy.

Our approach for too long has been to use the police to hunt down those who don’t behave lawfully, to ignore racial inequities, and to blame people for their own impoverishment, without realistically evaluating the underlying causes. Providing good schools, jobs, and addressing the issue of rising economic inequality can vastly improve matters. There’s plenty of wealth in America, among high-income individuals and corporations, to attain the same beneficial social results that citizens in other countries achieve.

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Tri-City Herald

Spokane County undersheriff received suspension for saying ‘ex-wives should be killed’

A Spokane County undersheriff received a four-week unpaid suspension in January after he joked to a member of the Spokane Valley Precinct staff that “ex-wives should be killed.”

Policy violations by leadership in law enforcement can often create the precedent that the behavior is acceptable unless swift action is taken by the chief or sheriff, said Richard Bennett, professor of justice at American University who earned his doctoral degree in sociology/criminal justice at Washington State University.

“Leadership sets the tone,” Bennett said.

Bennett researches police organization and procedures along with comparative criminology, and comparative criminal justice. “If the leader shows no regard for abusive language or racial slurs … the consequences are there,” Bennett said.

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