What causes psychiatric illness? Before answering, how about a little fun. 

Part 1: The Past

The year is 1993, Bill Clinton is President and the economy is sizzling hot, especially at “Billy Bob’s miracle used car lot.” Let’s watch Billy Bob as he films his new TV ad.

“Itchin for some brand-new wheels, but can’t afford the pricey deals, looking for that giddy-up-glide, that raises goosebumps on your hide? Then come on down!”

“Hi, folks. I’m Billy Bob, and every car you see on my lot has performed a miracle! Today’s miracle car is this baby-blue Coupe de Ville, convertible Cadillac, only $999! Listen to the testimonial of Nellie Bellie, the car’s previous owner.”

“Oh Billy Bob, there I was, driving over the bridge that spans the lake when, OH NO! A semi swerved into my lane — here comes a head-on collision. So, I turned the wheel hard, flew off the bridge, hovered in mid-air and then glided down to land on a fisherman’s dock. Hallelujah! 

Meet Tommy: 13 miles south of Billy Bob’s, stands alone, dilapidated trailer. Inside, Tommy Nathanial Turnipseed, aka “TNT” is glued to his TV screen. Poor TNT lost his job, wife and kids, his truck was repossessed, and this morning his dog ran off. “I need a miracle, “he said. And there it was – baby-blue Caddy, only $999. He dashed outside, snatched his shovel, and like a pirate, unearthed his buried treasure: a coffee can with $1,000 inside. He jumped on his bicycle and peddled 13 miles north.

Billy Bob’s car lot: Standing next to the blue Caddy and seeing no one in sight, TNT kicked the tires, ran his fingers over the paint job, opened the driver’s door and slipped inside. TNT whispered, “Give me a sign that this is my car.” From high above, came Billy Bob’s booming voice: “Take these keys, my son.” Billy Bob tossed the keys to TNT, who fired up the motor. Varoom, purred the throaty big-block engine. TNT bought the car and sped away on the highway which spanned the lake. As his tires gripped the asphalt on the bridge, he floored the gas pedal and “CRACK,” he fishtailed and Look OUT! He flew off the bridge, plunged into the deep water and sank.

Part 2: The Present

The year is 2016, Clinton hopes to trump the leading GOP contender for President, and the economy is put-put-puttering, but not at Billy Bob’s car lot. Hmmm. That’s curious. Up high in the sky was a new billboard: “TNT’s Miracle Cars.” Under the sign was a baby-blue Cadillac.

“Hi, I’m TNT and let me answer your questions straightaway. 1. Yes, that’s my miracle car up there. After scuba divers rescued me, two attorneys’ — Jimmy Joe and Johnny Joe — sued Billy Bob, and that’s how I ended up owning this business. 2. Billy Bob is in prison. 3. Unlike him, I’m an honest car dealer. But don’t take my word for it, pick out a car and I’ll prove my honesty.”

“Nice pick — that’s a 2015 Ferrari and here is its Car Fax. What’s a Car Fax? The Car Fax is to a crooked dealer (like Billy Bob) what sunlight is to a vampire. The Car Fax is a complete record of the car — from its birth in a factory to each service, repair and crash records. This Ferrari was wrecked three times, that’s why it’s so cheap — $399,000.”

The old ways of separating a good from a bad used car are long gone. What dethroned them? Technological innovation in information processing — the Car Fax — has shifted the power to you, the consumer, who now has the data to find a quality car.

What does all of this have to do with psychiatric illness ? Everything, and here’s why: Another word for Car Fax is history. The car’s entire history. What does your own personal history have to do with PI? Let’s find out.

PI is caused by three factors:

1. Genetic vulnerabilities handed down in families for specific types of disorders, such as depression.

2. Environmental stressors — illness, parental death, harsh life adversities, poor nutrition, exposure to violence and drugs.

3. The level of cognitive development — fancy words for how advanced the brain’s thinking ability was at the time the brain was struck by life stressors.

Conclusion: New discoveries in cognitive neuroscience have yielded a rich reward: by knowing the LCD at the time the brain was struck by life stressors, the specific thinking skills which were damaged or destroyed can now be rebuilt (a treatment process called cognitive restructuring). Being unaware of how your cognitive development has been altered, forces you to drive a car sold by Billy Bob. As you hit the bumps and ruts of life, you risk being flung into the murky depths of PI. 

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