We are now Office Hours! Listen in for an explanation behind the name change. (If you’ve already subscribed to our old contexts.org RSS feed or in iTunes, don’t worry: you will still get the new episodes. As of right now we’re still listed as “Contexts Podcast” in iTunes, but we’re working on changing that.)
This episode features a discussion with Peter Conrad, author of the Spring 2010 Contexts book review, Pills and the Pursuit of Normalcy, which reviews Happy Pills and Normal At Any Cost. Arturo and Peter start off talking about these books, but the conversation turns into a fascinating, wide-ranging discussion of the medicalization of everything from happiness to height. Other books referenced include The Loss of Sadness and The Medicalization of Society.
Arturo — August 2, 2010
This morning I heard a nice piece on NPR morning edition about the medicalization of emotional pain.
According to a recent draft of the upcoming DSM-V (the diagnostic system for categorizing mental conditions) psychiatrists are considering dropping the "bereavement exception clause" to the diagnosis of clinical depression. Currently depressive symptoms are seen as "normal" suffering or normal sadness if it occurs in the context of bereavement--when somebody is grieving the loss of someone close. However, in the new DSM-V some psychiatrists want to see even this type of sadness as treatable if it extends beyond 2-weeks.
But as the NPR piece highlights, this is debatable as to whether emotional pain is truly pathological or a disease. Perhaps such sadness is a normal process of recovery, or as the woman in the story who suffered the loss of her child described it: necessary to give "meaning" to the life that was lost. What is the significance of personal attachment if we can so easily overcome the death of a loved one. Moreover, why is two-weeks seen as the cutoff point.
Psychiatrists debate whether the empirical data points to a clear benefit of treating or not treating such suffering--but I think the issue really rests on how our ability (perhaps perceived ability) to alter our emotions changes the moral calculus of whether we should or not treat a social problem, as well alter the meaning we ascribe to that problem. Like in this podcast, Conrad discusses how the ability to alter physical height pathologizes height deviance. Girls that are too tall may suffer social stigma, and so if we have the ability to alter height it may seem more prudent to call it a treatable disease than address our social moral valuing of certain physical types. Of course, when we started valuing tall girls in age of women basketball, this medical condition quickly disappeared.
This is not to say that clinical depression is not real or shouldn't be treated, but does our ability to modify our sadness change what we see as tolerable or desirable in terms of suffering? Is this progress
A prior podcast with Allan Horwitz also discussed these issues, when we talked about his recent book the loss of sadness:
Jon — July 28, 2012
Medicalization is so pervasive in our culture that I actually believe it is the unofficial "language" of our time. More and more people seem incapable to make sense of their reality without speaking it.