Conrad talks medicine
Professor Peter Conrad addressed the medicalization of society in Lovejoy 100.
Brandeis College’s Harry Coplan Professor of Social Sciences Peter Conrad discussed the medicalization and de-medicalization of various conditions and their implications for society during a talk on Feb. 21. This was a part of the Health, Technology and Society Tuesday Leture Series.
“Everyone seems to know intuitively what medicalization is now,” Conrad said. Medicalization is the classification of a condition or problem as medical in nature. Though this classification can change the context of the problem, Conrad said, “It’s not good or bad. It just is.”
Conrad mentioned numerous conditions that have been medicalized over the years, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcoholism. PTSD became a recognized disorder, originally encompassing a set of psychological symptoms experienced by Vietnam War veterans. Since then, other types of stress have been included as causes of PTSD.
Unlike with PTSD, medical professionals were not the origin of the campaign to medicalize alcoholism. Conrad said that this movement was started by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) chapters and was eventually adopted by the general population.
Conrad also cited a few cases where conditions became de-medicalized and said that medicalization is “bi-directional.” This included the deletion of homosexuality from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) of psychiatry after protests during the homosexual liberation movement.
After describing the historical trend in medicalization, Conrad discussed the current actors responsible for medicalization. Rather than physicians, he said that pharmaceutical companies have become very powerful in terms of medicalization. Because of direct-to-consumer marketing in the United States, these companies are able to reach many people and encourage them to talk to their doctor to see if a drug is right for them. This makes physicians the “gatekeepers” of the system, Conrad said. Drug companies begin the medicalization process and the physicians either legitimize or reject the change put forward.
Conrad said that this system can do a number of things in terms of social implications. First, it shifts responsibility. People use excuses such as “It’s not me. It’s my illness,” Conrad said.
Secondly, especially with the prominence of the Internet, people can easily organize to support the medicalization or de-medicalization of certain conditions. Conrad mentioned the example of pro-anorexia websites which claim that anorexia is a lifestyle rather than a medical condition.
To end the talk, Conrad said “We are having a huge amount of medicalization...that affects the way we live our lives,” and encouraged the audience to make their own conclusions as to the ethics of these changes.