Are we “medicalizing normality”?

Dr Stephen Ginn

Thursday, September 15 2016 at 7:30PM

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60 Roff Avenue
Bedford MK41 7TW

Dr Stephen Ginn

What's the talk about?

Psychiatrists are medically trained doctors and psychiatry is a medical speciality which focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of mental function i.e. abnormalities of thought, perceptions, emotional and purposeful behaviour. 
Psychiatry is one of the most controversial medical specialities. There are a number of reasons for this, which this talk addresses. These include:
The validity of ‘mental illness’. Mainstream psychiatry is underpinned by an assumption that mental illnesses can be viewed as diseases akin to those that affect other parts of the body. But others argue that mental illness are predominantly social rather than medical in origin, and are used for purposes of control. Szasz famously argued that mental illnesses do not exist at all.
We may agree that mental illness is a valid concept, but how widely should this be applied? Has shyness, for instance, become ‘generalized anxiety disorder’. If it has, does this matter? Many new disorders have appeared with new editions of psychiatric classification manuals and some regard this as ‘medicalizing normality’.
Alongside diagnosis, psychiatric treatments often receive unfavourable scrutiny. The number of prescriptions of antidepressants in England and Wales has increased in recent years. Does this reflect the better recognition and treatment of mental disorders, or the influence of the pharmaceutical industry over doctors’ prescribing? And do these medications actually work? Should more talking therapies be offered instead?
Some say that psychiatrists have no role treating mental illness.  But who should take our place?  No society has satisfactorily cured, integrated, or accepted those with disturbed minds.  Is it unfair to chide psychiatry for its failures, where so many others also come up short? 

Dr Stephen Ginn is a consultant psychiatrist working in North London.  He specializes in in-patient care of people with severe mental illnesses.  He blogs at (sadly neglected, but hopefully soon to be resurrected) and tweets at @psychiatrist.  He also co-runs the Art of Psychiatry Society ( and @artofpsychiatry) which holds meetings to explore the shared space between psychiatry and the creative arts.