Are We Medicating Normalcy?


meds senior.comYou’ve heard it all at dinner parties, graduations, school fundraisers, and family cookouts … At least, I have:

Psychiatry is a business that is medicating every normal syndrome out there: Too shy to ask a girl to prom? Take Zoloft for Social Anxiety Disorder…. Grieving the loss of a spouse a year after he passed away? Try Prozac for Major Depressive Disorder…. Feeling a little hyper and can’t concentrate? You need Adderall for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Doctors are greedy experts that are too lazy to get to the core problem and will medicate any person for any reason. They are essentially poisoning the population with this pill-popping philosophy.

Now I know that there is a bit of truth to this. I was under the care of one doctor who had me taking something like 23 different capsules a day. I was somewhat alarmed when my daily regimen didn’t fit inside that plastic medication planner designed for elderly folks. A few weeks of that medication cocktail and I passed out into my cereal bowl. After a nice stay at the closest psych ward, I sought out a second opinion.

However, to say that the whole field of psychiatry is run by Satan, which I have heard from a number of well-educated, insightful, and otherwise-nuanced people, is a tad unfair and untrue.

Ron Pies, M.D. responds to the indictment of psychiatry in his article, “The Myth of Medicalization”:

In my view, the medicalization narrative contains some kernels of truth, and many defenders of the term proceed from honorable and well-intentioned motives; for example, the wish to reduce unnecessary use of psychotropic medication—and who could be opposed to that? But on the whole, I believe the medicalization narrative is philosophically naive and clinically unhelpful. On close examination, the term “medicalization” proves to be largely a rhetorical device, aimed at ginning up popular opposition to psychiatric diagnosis. It not only stigmatizes the field of psychiatry and those who practice in it, but it also undermines our ability to provide the best care to our patients, by spuriously normalizing their suffering and incapacity.

He then describes the primary role of psychiatry today, which is rather simple: to relieve suffering and incapacity in whatever way is possible. “So long as the patient is experiencing a substantial or enduring state of suffering and incapacity, the patient has disease (dis-ease).” That mission, asserts, Pies, is not to medicalize normality. It is an ethical imperative. He writes:

Physicians, fundamentally, are not philosophers or evolutionary biologists. We do not, as a matter of daily routine, entertain metaphysical and semantic questions, such as “What is truly normal for the human species?” Rather, physicians have a general concept of what constitutes health, and a general concept of enduring and significant departures from health. We find ourselves faced with a waiting room full of distressed and often incapacitated human beings who, in ordinary circumstances, are voluntarily seeking our help. We do our best to respond to them not as specimens of abnormality, but as suffering individuals—and as fellow human beings.

Originally published on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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5 Responses
  1. Certainly, some people do require medical intervention. But I do think we are “medicalizing normalcy’ to a great degree. Too many physicians hand out anti-depressants for nothing more than a few bad days and refuse to address the whole person. We love our doctor because when my husband was diagnosed as depressed (brought on by a grueling international travel schedule), the doctor also insisted he attend counseling for awhile. He also addressed his diet, his exercise, and his sleep habits. I still believe a holistic approach is the best approach.

    1. Iris Berg

      I think people who are not really clinically depressed stop taking SSRI’s if they don’t really need them.

  2. How do you feel about supplements for anxiety? I have heard that taking Magnesium can help, but I am not into any of the woo-woo, holistic stuff. Have you heard any success stories?

  3. Iris Berg

    I think we are just starting to find out about bi-polar 2 and how many people REALLY do have it. We should be careful with Meds, but not stigmatize them or the people who need them. There is a real bio-chemical reason for Bi-polar. That said, life style changes, can be helpful. There is a way to go before we pinpoint the best treatment for Bi-polar.