Medicalizing Society

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From Jacobin: “…the idea that population-wide rates of despair and social dysfunction should be understood as biological diseases, rather than the result of rampant class inequality and miserable labor conditions, is hardly self-evident. In fact, it has a highly political history. Institutionalizing it as a consensus required complex coordination between medical leaders and the big industrialists who backed their initiatives.

The invention of psychiatry in the early twentieth century was spurred by the need to find an idiom in which social problems could be considered as medical problems best managed by scientific experts. Thus, if the language of psychiatry and mental health seems designed to offer a conceptual and explanatory panacea to the chronic despair of today’s ‘New Gilded Age,’ it is precisely because it was invented amid the staggering wealth inequality of the first Gilded Age.

The creation and institutional dissemination of psychiatry was only possible with the extensive financial support of Gilded Age industrial capital, most notably the Rockefeller Foundation. The origin story of psychiatry is thus one of industrial capital investing a portion of its stupefying profits, not into the production of goods, but into the institutionalization of a new form of knowledge, one that could produce a consensus around the medical character of social ills.”

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10 COMMENTS

  1. This, of course, is humbug, as it contaminates medicine with sociology. You can’t solve social problems with medicine, which has no business getting the populace stoned out in order to meet social goals, as it corrupts medicine as well as society. This is one thing MIA misses, because the medical model the contributors attack isn’t medical at all, but a grandiose attempt to create a scientifically approved society; hence, you have Nazi shrinks gassing their patients instead of actually practicing medicine, and the present AMA and APA sucking up to drug companies and not paying attention to their patients’ needs (no winter trips to balmy isles without the prerequisite kissing of pharmaceutical behind).

    • Looks like we agree on something, if you want to get precise.

      the medical model the contributors attack isn’t medical at all

      Maybe we should start putting quotes around “medical” too. Or calling it the pseudo-medical model.

      Still, the term “model” is problematic for me as well, as it implies that there is a definable “something” to have a model OF.

  2. I think Szasz wrote about an emerging Pharmacracy (I may have misspelled that, btw), a rule by and for those involved with drugs–prescription drugs, street drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs!. And…here we are…

    2018. I read a shrink’s blog once, he says psychiatry is really society’s “pressure valve” or something…by taking care of outliers and deviants, psychiatry is supposed to help maintain order. but…in the current “epidemic of psychiatry” (yes, Szasz), it appears that the attempts to patch up a hyper-competitive, disintegrating society result in…

    more chaos, more violence, more disintegration and alienation. So, the vast majority of human beings would probably be better off without psychiatry, not just “mental patients” and their families. But with less upward mobility, more inequality, and increasingly cut throat competition for what’s left for the 99%…

    I think perhaps society needs psychiatry more than ever.

  3. Interesting article about the dawn of psychiatry in the USA, and the medicalization of social ills that developed in the twentieth century. The antipsychiatry movement of the 70s and 80s, as the author puts it, is one of the author’s scapegoats. This same antipsychiatry movement that serves as a scapegoat for so many of the policies of today. The same antipsychiatry movement, he calls it a failure, that was a scapegoat prior to this blame it has received for it’s envisioned success. It’s this separation of the problems of everyday life from what are seen as “serious mental illnesses” that concerns me. Had he looked into the treatment of lunacy throughout the 19th century more closely, he might have come to, I would think, a different conclusion. Were he to do so, perhaps his views wouldn’t bare so much in common with the views of such an ardent archpsychiatrist, the field he is focused on criticizing, as E. Fuller Torrey. When it comes to the rise of psychiatry’s dominion over practically everything, I just have to say it, blaming antipsychiatry is one heck of a red herring.

    • My regrets in advance for doubting you Frank. Health care provision is obviously in ennourmous difficulties. I agree you can’t blame so called ‘anti-psychiatrists’ for failing to ensure the adequate provision of resources to support people struggling with difficulties. Most of those labeled such rejected the accolade. They were a diverse bunch after all and hadn’t the resources themselves. I also agree the conclusion seems wrong-headed, but maybe just badly worded. I was listening to journalists recently report that the financial result of medicare for all might result in something like $17 Trillion in savings to the American citizens in the first decade if enacted. I support so called ‘socialised’ medicine and while agreeing professionals deserve decent rewards for their hard work I’ve also realised that the profit-motive is bad for health in all manner of other ways. The researchers who do basic research to develop ‘treatments’ usually do so in non profit situations-universities, government labs, philanthropic organisations etc. To give the fruit of their labours to private corporations to feed private greed is wrong. The profit motive isn’t the funder of research often enough but it seems however that sometimes it does result in motivations to be less than candid in the evaluation the resulting ‘treatments’.

      • Unfortunately, the need for outside funding at universities has led to the profit motive driving a lot of university research, at least in the USA. Add to that a change in law allowing university researchers to patent discoveries they make and to make profits off of their “neutral” research, and things are indeed very messy even at universities. As for government entities, the picture is perhaps better, but they are still heavily influenced by the politicians who lead them, who in turn are heavily lobbied by the pharmaceutical industry. And that’s not even getting into publication bias. It’s difficult to find an objective scientist these days!

      • Funny how what some consider “blame” should actually be seen as “credit.” If anti-psychiatry sentiment is responsible for fucking up their shit we should consider it a feather in our caps. Here’s to even more far-reaching “failures” for the AP movement!

    • I think there may be much to what this guy is saying, however, his conclusions hit at our movement, and there is something vital missing. Not once, for example, is eugenics mentioned. We’ve got another one of those progressives who doesn’t ‘get it’ as far as the psychiatric survivor or mad movement goes. He could be said, like Mother Jones, to be informed primarily by E. Fuller Torrey and his ilk. Bad source, huh! I think the problem there stems from Ralph Nader’s embrace of some of the projects put forward by the TAC. The APA had a very successful PR facelift, in recent history, and now you’ve got all these other people hopping on board. NAMI has a lot to do with it. I’m hoping someday that somebody can rehabilitate and resurrect in the public mind antipsychiatry from the kind of savagery that has been done to it. The word through die off and scapegoating has once again been transformed into a pejorative expression. People in the mental health system for the most serious conditions (insults) are dying at an average age of 25 to 30 years younger than the rest of the population. Most of this death and injury can be directly attributed to the primary form psychiatric of treatment utilized today, pharmaceuticals. Now, try blaming antipsychiatry for that!