Text: Jean-Daniel Tissot
Photo: DR

Biological and cultural revolution

In the 20th century, which wasn’t too long ago, psychiatry could be summed up with a single word – asylum. People were committed indiscriminately without receiving any treatment. It was a way to get rid of the problem: “Out of sight, out of mind.” Thankfully, things have changed, knowledge has improved, the discipline has evolved, and the public has also (somewhat) come to terms with psychiatric disorders.

Mental disease is no longer considered a shameful obstacle by definition. Nevertheless, challenges remain. By their very nature, psychiatric pathologies are non-quantifiable and intangible since they have to do with the mind and psyche. For patients, this is a recipe for stigma and suspicion. In 2017, many people still thought the best way to treat depression is a “swift kick to the rear”.

They are completely wrong, of course. In the past few years, research has come to the rescue of both patients and physicians. A type of “biological revolution” has taken place. Advancements in the fields of imaging and molecular biology have improved science’s understanding of the brain and revealed the biological reasons for many psychiatric disorders. This has made diagnosis faster and more reliable, opening the path to new therapeutic approaches and destigmatising patients. At the Faculty of Biology and Medicine (FBM), this revolution can be seen in the field of schizophrenia through the work of Prof. Kim Do Cuénod.

However, these breakthroughs don’t mean more traditional approaches will fall by the wayside. On the contrary, classical psychiatry and “hard science” can coexist while building off each other and helping the other to advance. Certain changes will have to be made. Language is one aspect that has changed already. We now talk about “neurosciences”, whether in reference to clinical, fundamental, or psychiatric medicine. The term may be a bit of a catch-all, but the advantage is that it breaks down barriers separating the various disciplines, even if it’s just symbolic. Practices will also have to change. Patient care must account for progress in basic research and draw from technological innovations – one example that comes to mind is the NeuroTech platform at the Lausanne University Hospital.

Finally, structures must adapt as well. In this respect, the FBM celebrates the decision of the three University of Lausanne and Lausanne University Hospital departments involved in this field, namely Clinical Neurosciences, Fundamental Neurosciences, and Psychiatry, to work together and join forces to significantly contribute to research, teaching, and patient care.



Jean-Daniel Tissot is Dean of the Faculty of Biology and Medicine at the University of Lausanne.