Acta Neurochirurgica

, Volume 160, Issue 3, pp 625–635 | Cite as

The re-emergence of psychiatric neurosurgery: insights from a cross-national study of newspaper and magazine coverage

  • Laura Y. Cabrera
  • Merlin Bittlinger
  • Hayami Lou
  • Sabine Müller
  • Judy Illes
Original Article - Neurosurgical Techniques



Surgical approaches to treat psychiatric disorders have made a comeback. News media plays an essential role in exposing the public to trends in health care such as the re-emergence of therapeutic interventions in psychiatric neurosurgery that were set aside for decades, and in shaping attitudes and acceptance to them.


We conducted an analysis of media articles covering all types of psychiatric neurosurgery published in Canada, USA, Germany, and Spain between the years 1960 and 2015. We applied both quantitative and qualitative methods to elucidate patterns of reporting for conditions, themes and tone, across geographic regions, time, and for type of intervention.


Coverage of psychiatric neurosurgery has surged since 2001 and is largely consistent across the countries examined. It focuses on depression and deep brain stimulation, and is explicit about historical context. The tone of coverage becomes more positive for Canada, USA and Spain over time; the tone of coverage from Germany remains cautious. Identity and privacy are among the few ethical and philosophical issues raised, notably in the German press.


The focused and optimistic attention to contemporary psychiatric neurosurgery in the media, but inattention to ethical issues, places an extra burden on functional neurosurgeons, psychiatrists, and other frontline health professionals to attend to queries from patients and policy makers about the full range of relevant emergent and emerging interventions and the mental health issues to which they may beneficially apply.


Psychiatric neurosurgery International media coverage Neuroethics Medical ethics Deep brain stimulation 



We would like to acknowledge the support of ERA-NET NEURON Team Grant: Ethical, Legal and Social (ELS) Issues #ERN-144241 and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research of Germany (01GP1621A). We also thank the other members of the ERA-NET NEURON psychiatric neurosurgery team, including functional neurosurgeons and legal scholars, for their insightful comments regarding this subproject. We would also thank Julia Porter for data collection for Fig. 1. A reference list of the articles included in the sample can be obtained from the corresponding author.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors certify that they have no affiliations with or involvement in any organization or entity with any financial interest (such as honoraria; educational grants; participation in speakers’ bureaus; membership, employment, consultancies, stock ownership, or other equity interest; and expert testimony or patent-licensing arrangements), or non-financial interest (such as personal or professional relationships, affiliations, knowledge or beliefs) in the subject matter or materials discussed in this manuscript.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Austria, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Y. Cabrera
    • 1
  • Merlin Bittlinger
    • 2
  • Hayami Lou
    • 3
  • Sabine Müller
    • 2
  • Judy Illes
    • 3
  1. 1.Center for Ethics & Humanities in the Life Sciences, Department of Translational Science and Molecular MedicineMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Corporate Member of Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Berlin Institute of Health, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, CCM, Division of Mind and Brain ResearchBerlinGermany
  3. 3.Neuroethics CanadaThe University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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