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Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Medical Model and the Individualization of Social Problems

Medicalization is the process through which human problems and or conditions come to be seen as medical in nature. The Medicalization of human behavior is increasing in western society. In western society, as time goes on, an ever increasing number of human behaviors are defined as illness. Also, the medicalization of human behavior is increasing in spite of the fact the vast majority of behaviors defined as illnesses have little to no empirical basis as such. Seemingly, behavior is defined as illness mainly for political and moral reasons rather than scientific ones.

Because Medicalization views behavior as illness it tends to seek medical explanations for behavioral problems and treats them through medical means. For example, although it has not been scientifically proven, modern psychiatry operates under the belief that mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and that psychiatric medication corrects this imbalance.

Medical explanations of human behavior tend to focus primarily on the individual while ignoring the individual’s social environment when determining the causes of their behavior. For example, substance addiction is now believed to have a strong hereditary component. This explanation focuses on the genes that predispose someone to become addicted to a substance while ignoring the socio-cultural aspects of substance addiction. Likewise, medical treatments tend to focus on changing the individual instead of their social environment. Take mental illness treatments for example. Somatic treatments such as psychiatric medication, psychosurgery, and shock therapies all focus on changing the individual not their social environment. One could even argue that non-somatic treatments such as psychotherapy focus more on changing the individual rather than their social circumstances by focusing on changing the individual’s behavior, thinking and perspective.

By defining behavior as illness it also loses its political influence. When behavior is labeled as illness it is no longer seen as having been caused by the political context. Instead, it is seen as symptomatic of illness. For example, in the past political dissidents in the former Soviet Union have been labeled with mental illness by the Soviet Government in an effort to put an end to their political activities.

Medical social control prevents society from changing
 when sometimes it clearly should.
A person’s social environment may be the primary cause of their behavior. For example, a person may be prone to anger because they are frequently bullied or they may be depressed because they work long hours and don’t have much time for a social life. Because medical explanations and treatments of behavior focus on the individual and not their social or cultural environment the unhealthy social environment that is responsible for an individual’s behavior often goes unchallenged and therefore remains the same. Likewise, the current state of the political system is generally why individuals engage in political protest. However, when political protest is defined as illness or the protesters are defined as sick, their behavior is seen not as protest but as illness and the political system is allowed to remain the same. Because of these things, in my opinion, medicalizing human behavior protects the status quo.  medicalizing human behavior protects the current state of society so it does not have to change.

In my opinion, medical social control is oppressive.  Medical social control protects the status quo but it achieves this at the cost of the individuals that make up the society in which it is present. Because medical explanations and treatments of human behavior focus on the individual and ignore the individual’s social environment, people don’t change their circumstances to make themselves happy. People are changed, sometimes by force, through medical treatments such as medication or therapy to accommodate their circumstances. Also, because medical social control has the power to take away the political influence of bad behavior, Individuals who have a problem with the way society functions or do not do well because of the way a particular society is created are stigmatized and seen as second class and defective.

The social environment in our society plays a significant role in acts synonymous with mental illness such as mass shootings and suicide. Doctors in our society claim individuals who engage in these behaviors are sick however their behavior often has social causes such as bullying, isolation as well as our cultures emphasis on materialism and individual gain. Many studies show that the social environment in our society also plays a significant role in the way in which minorities are more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness. Minorities are more likely to experience prejudice and discrimination in social situations which cause them stress. This stress increases their likelihood to be diagnosed with mental illness. Multiple studies show that there is a relationship between socioeconomic status and mental illness. Although these studies do not examine the nature of this relationship, they do show that the lower a person’s socioeconomic status is the more likely they are to develop mental illness. By diagnosing these individuals as mentally ill our society is not helping them. Our society is medicating them so they can better tolerate their circumstances.

I think that as long as medical social control exists, it will oppress people. A human beings behavior is significantly affected the society they live in. However the medical perspective inherently tends to seek explanations for human behavior within the individual instead of within the society they live just like as it does with all physical illness. The medical model of mental illness or the tendency in our society to view what is known as mental illness as physical illness and treat it by physical means is in its ascendency. Members of our society need to, instead, focus on the ways in which our society causes people to engage in behavior that deviates from the norm and work toward changing them. It is my belief that, No matter how much people are medicated, or how much therapy they receive, human behavioral problems will continue unless the society that causes them changes.

References:

Price, M. (2015). Apa.org. Retrieved 25 July 2015, from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2008/06/genes-addict.aspx
Eghigian, G. From madness to mental health.
Conrad, P., & Schneider, J. (1992). Deviance and medicalization. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Meyer, I. (2015). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.Retrieved 25 July 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2072932/

Hudson, C. (2015). Apa.org. Retrieved 25 July 2015, from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2005/03/low-ses.aspx

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