Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Is “Mentally Ill” the New Normal?

By Gloria Wright

Drug treatments for behaviours that were previously not considered mental health conditions raise several unintended consequences.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

If we are to believe federal Health Minister Peter Dutton, 46% of us will develop a mental illness in our lifetimes – a staggering increase. Almost half of us will qualify to log in to Dutton’s new online support forum SANE.

As the near majority of us can expect to have our individual identities relabelled as treatable disorders, the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual offers an ever-widening selection of “conditions” from which to choose – “illnesses” that previous generations may have seen as human dilemmas rather than mental disorders.

We are riding a wave driven by a medical framework investing in ever-finer layers of distinction of human categorisation. In 1952 the first DSMV catalogued 60 mental health disorders. By 1994 the fourth edition listed 297 dis­orders and 400 specific psychiatric diagnoses. In 2013 the fifth edition continued this expansion by broadening the definitions of “conditions” and widening the array of diagnosable disorders.

This expansion provoked the early attention of sociologists like Erving Goffman, who detailed the “career” of the mental health patient in his 1962 book Asylums. While we celebrate the end to asylums, the phenomenon of “medicalisation”, first introduced in 1976 by Prof Peter Conrad of Brandeis University in Boston, highlights how the insidious process of “creating” mental illness,...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.