Friday, October 15, 2004

Return of George Bush and the mad-doctors

In June I mentioned the scheme to introduce mental health screening in the US. At the time most of the critical coverage related to the close links between the Bush family and drug companies who were likely to benefit greatly from the scheme. I commented that while it is important to establish who will make money from it, the broader issue was the ongoing medicalisation and psychologisation of American and world society. The Psychologists Acting with Conscience Together blog today also comments on what I think is the same initiative, which apparently goes by the wonderfully sinister name of "New Freedom Commission". Psychologists Acting with Conscience Together are of the opinion that "they are actively pursuing an expansion of the child market for psychiatric pharmaceuticals" and urge readers to sign the anti mental health screening petition provided by (look for the "click to sign" link on the left of their home page). Ablechild says it consists of a "growing number of parents outraged over both the subjective labeling (ADHD, ADD, OCD, ODD) and pervasive drugging of our children".

I support what Psychologists Acting with Conscience Together and are doing, but again want to emphasize that the screening thing is wrong for reasons that go beyond corporate greed. There are a number of different critical angles on this and I think it is important to give more airtime to those towards the end of this list:

  • Bad faith. Yes, clearly many of these sorts of initiatives are driven by motives other than helping people with "mental illness", such as making a fast buck.
  • Bad science I. Yes, clearly a disturbing number of drug studies appear not to be sufficiently carefully done and sufficiently honestly reported on.
  • Bad science II. In addition, the sort of science that tries to isolate and measure variables is often not relevant to the rich, culturally embedded, constantly unfolding lives we live. There is a lot of collective wisdom out there about the challenges and disappointments and surprises that we face every day, but it is not the sort of wisdom quantitative scientist can ever 'discover'. So the problem is perhaps not so much the "subjective labeling" that complains about, but rather attempts at objective labeling in a domain which operates on very different principles.
  • Bad politics. Screening and treating individuals can sometimes be helpful, but it also draws attention away from social and political ills by ascribing our difficulties in living to individual psychological problems.


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