Steven Lubet, a law professor at Northwestern University, has written a powerful piece over at Social Science Space, responding to the awful Op-Ed on Long COVID that appeared the other week in the Wall Street Journal. He doesn’t hold back:
It would be mistaken to suppose that disdain for patients is an actual requirement of psychiatric training in North America, but you would have good reason to wonder about it after reading a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Dr. Jeremy Devine, a psychiatry resident at McMaster University in Canada.
Devine is just one of a number of critics who’ve recently seen fit to troll the entire Long COVID patient community by dismissing them as hysterics. He claims that their ongoing symptoms are actually nothing more than the “invention of vocal patient activist groups” who, as Lubet puts it, “have irrationally chosen to deny their need for psychiatric care.”
Devine’s conspiratorial mindset leads him to rebuke patient support groups for mission overreach when calling for increased biomedical research. He is especially miffed that they actually spend money on their own cause. Lubet makes short work of demonstrating the inherent double-standards at the centre of this slur:
Nor is the Body Politic [a COVID-19 Support Group] Devine’s only bête noire. He is equally ill-disposed toward Solve ME/CFS, a group that seeks to encourage research into the poorly understood condition variously called myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome. Among its other offenses, as Devine sees them, Solve ME/CFS had the temerity to hire “a lobbyist to pressure federal agencies to commit more funds to research.” Lobbyists are a fixture in Washington, D.C., seeking to influence virtually every federal agency. In 2020, according to OpenSecrets.org, at least 2120 organizations employed lobbyists on health issues (behind only expenditure and tax issues). In 2018, the American Psychiatric Association spent $957,300 on lobbying.
As a profession, psychiatry seems to be letting itself down quite a lot recently. That their newest generation might be as closed-minded as ever seems especially dispiriting. Lubet puts it all into some deserved historical perspective:
One would hope for more humility from a new physician in training for a specialty that once diagnosed homosexuality as a mental illness, blamed autism on refrigerator mothers, and attributed asthma to cries for help from a smothering parent. There is much yet to learn about long Covid and ME/CFS. If Jeremy Devine truly wants to be a healer, he ought to stop slighting patients and their advocacy groups and begin listening to them.
It’s a compelling column and I highly recommend it. Go read it in full here.
Brian Hughes is an academic psychologist and university professor in Galway, Ireland, specialising in stress, health, and the application of psychology to social issues. He writes widely on the psychology of empiricism and of empirically disputable claims, especially as they pertain to science, health, medicine, and politics.