Biomedicine, neoliberalism and the pharmaceuticalisation of society

Authored by: Emma Tseris

Routledge International Handbook of Critical Mental Health

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138225473
eBook ISBN: 9781315399584
Adobe ISBN:


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In the Global North, the twenty-first century could be deemed an age of the ‘pharmaceutical imagination’ (Marshall 2010), constituted by two parallel processes: an increasingly rigid and narrow definition of ‘healthy’ or ‘normal’ human experience; and a growing reliance on the use of pharmaceutical products to attempt to reach a state of perceived health or normality. One of the clearest examples of this trend is in the area of psychotropic medications for the treatment of mental health conditions. Gambrill (2014) describes an explosion in psychiatric diagnoses over the past few decades, whereby behaviours previously considered to be within the expected range of human experience are now classed as mental disorders; within the same period, the use of psychotropic drugs has risen exponentially in the United States and other Western countries. In 2013, mental disorders topped the list of the most costly health conditions in the US, with spending at US$201 billion (Roehrig 2016). Despite the arrival of a range of ‘holistic’ and ‘alternative’ paradigms in the mental health arena that have sought to explore the potential of non-drug approaches, ‘it is difficult to overstate the central role that drug treatment plays in modern-day psychiatry’ (Moncrieff 2008: 2, emphasis added).

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