November 12, 2016


BEING MENTALLY ILL: THE NEW NORMAL? : Everyday challenges are being rebranded psychological crises. (FRANK FUREDI, 3 OCTOBER 2016, SPIKED)

The principal driver of the constant increase in the diagnosis of mental illness is the set of cultural forces that normalise human vulnerability. As I argue in my forthcoming book What's Happened to the University?: A Sociological Exploration of its Infantilisation, current cultural and socialisation practices encourage young people to perceive themselves as vulnerable and emotionally fragile. The cultivation of vulnerability is a cultural accomplishment that transcends social and class differences. Once young people are encouraged to consider themselves vulnerable, they often interpret their experience of disappointment and distress through the prism of psychology. Indeed, being vulnerable often becomes an important part of an individual's identity.

Most accounts of the proliferation of the identity of vulnerability refuse to acknowledge the cultural influences that shape this outlook. For example, reports that universities are finding that 'more students arrive with existing psychological or mental-health conditions' blame factors that are extraneous to the influence of therapy culture. So one account claims that 'students are seeking help against a backdrop of mounting pressure to get the best possible degree, in order to secure a good job to pay off their debts from students loans'. Others point the finger at peer pressure, homesickness, feeling out of place in a strange environment, etc. The main reason why the cultural drivers of mental-health catastrophism are not acknowledged is because so many practitioners have internalised their underlying values and assumptions.

It is important not to confuse the growing numbers of mental-illness diagnoses with an increase in actual medical conditions. There are many contingent and cultural reasons why diagnoses are increasing. For many parents, for instance, a diagnosis of ADHD for their children provides reassurance that their child's behavioural problem is not their fault. Sometimes a diagnosis provides a claim for resources. And sometimes it gives meaning to people's sense of distress. That is why, quite often when people talk to each other about their mental-illness diagnosis, they are not so much making statements about their medical conditions as they are about who they are as a person.

Posted by at November 12, 2016 4:17 AM