[Book Review] The medicalisation of everyday life: A critical perspective by Barbara Fawcett, Zita Weber, and Helen Bannister

Vicary, Sarah (2022). [Book Review] The medicalisation of everyday life: A critical perspective by Barbara Fawcett, Zita Weber, and Helen Bannister. Journal of Social Work (Early Access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/14680173221101447


Reading this as an electronic text is indicative of the peculiarity of the pandemic times in which I have been asked to review the book. This peculiarity dovetails very neatly with the concluding remarks of the contextual chapter which summarizes the book, namely the rise of the concept of medicalization and its various guises. Based on the philosophical notion that medicalization is a phenomenon that seeks to pathologies the individual through categorization, in part described because of the rise of the profession of the doctor but more generally the turn to the expert, this book turns its focus to mental illness or deviant behavior.

The book is divided into 10 chapters. In the first chapter, the authors introduce the reader to the concept of medicalization with a helpful summary and narrative. The second chapter narrows the focus to mental health, posing the question in the context of the book's introduction as to where to draw the line between this and mental disorder. Providing a brief critique of the development of diagnostic manuals, the chapter continues with a discussion of propositions, each provided by way of asking the reader to consider the implications thereof and, in essence, provides what is the main premise of the book which is that, rather than forcing individuals into pre-established diagnostic categories, helping people make sense of their distress in the context of their lives is a viable alternative. It is contended by the authors that individual as well as societal and contextual etiological factors all play their part in mental distress and need to be acknowledged, addressed, and worked with in the relationship between the mental health practitioner and service user.

Alternative narratives of mental distress to those of the dominance of biomedical psychiatry are purported but the authors suggest it is the latter that is assimilated and becomes fragmented. In addition, they go on to argue that people's lived experience if viewed collectively is thereby also in danger of ignoring the context whether that be societal, gender, or class-based. The authors claim that the goal is not to create another binary, that is, individual against a collective lived experience, but to work with the subtle nuances that this intersection offers, with the aim of creating a more honest mental health service for all participants. In the remaining chapters, exemplars are considered: depression; anxiety; distressing experience; and attention deficit disorder. There is also a discussion of the pharmaceutical industry and the contention that it controls much of the research and development of drugs and also the testing of them before turning to globalization, where it is advised that widening the debate in this manner should not obfuscate local and cultural distinctiveness.

Bringing this review full circle, to conclude, the reader is asked to consider the digital age, especially what the authors term human enhancement, whereby they introduce the notion of local-in-global scenarios continuing the theme of the book; that the pathology of the individual is associated with a concomitant disregard for interpersonal, intersectional and inter structural factors and is a pertinent theme. I was left wondering if any follow-up text will provide practical examples.

This is a really well-written and structured book that contains a well-argued view of mental distress from an acknowledged viewpoint. It will be interesting to understand the eventual audience, as I suspect this will be read by those who already acknowledge this same viewpoint. It will nonetheless be of interest to all who are interested in the subject more broadly.

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